BROOKLET — For both the boys and girls of Southeast Bulloch, the mission is clear as the Region 3-AAA basketball tournaments begin today.
Two wins means a berth in the state tournament. Anything short of that means the end of the season.
The Lady Yellow Jackets (9-13) nearly had an easier road to get to state.
SEB finished the regular season in a tie with Savannah High for fourth place. And while the top two-seeds received double-byes and an automatic state playoff bid, the third and fourth seeds got a bye and need just one win. SEB lost a tiebreaker coin toss and dropped to the No. 5 seed, forcing it to play in today’s first round with a 7 p.m. tip off against No. 8 Islands.
If there is a silver lining to that tough break, it’s that - by virtue of the pre-set tournament bracket - both SEB squads will get to play tonight’s games on their home floor.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost the coin toss and we have to play in the first round,” SEB girls coach Kristen Barnhill said. “But that can’t be what we’re thinking about. We’ve had great crowds all year and it’s certainly easier to play at home. Hopefully, we’ll have another good turnout and our team will use that to our advantage.”
“It’s always good to be at home,” SEB boys coach John Page said. “There are some hostile environments (in the region). Hopefully, that’s what (Windsor Forest) will have to deal with.”
The sixth-seeded SEB boys (9-16) will take on No. 7 Windsor Forest (9-15) at 8:30 p.m. During the regular season, the Jackets claimed an 8-point home win over the Knights at home and got out of Savannah with a 12-point win two weeks ago.
But regular seasons games aren’t much compared to the pressure cooker that is postseason play - especially when both teams are in a do-or-die situation. Two wins over WIndsor Forest and an earlier upset of 2-seed Islands have the SEB boys knowing that they have what it takes to prevail.
Now it’s time to show it on the court.
“(Windsor Forest) is a big team,” Page said. “They posed some matchup problems for us, but we found a way to win. When it comes to this time of the year, you just have to pull from everywhere. Older guys might know more about what we’re going into, but everyone has to be prepared to make a play and help the team.”
The SEB ladies are in a similar situation.
The Lady Jackets made short work of Islands in their two meetings during the regular season. SEB claimed a 12-point win in Savannah and put up its best defensive showing of the season in limiting the Lady Sharks to just 16 total points during a Jan. 17 home victory.
If the Jackets can win for a third time against Islands, they’ll earn the right to go up against Savannah Wednesday night for a spot in the Class AAA state tournament - no coin flips necessary.
“This is kind of new for most of the girls,” Barnhill said. “We haven’t gotten anywhere yet, but this is about as well as we’ve been set up heading into the region tournament since I’ve been here. A lot of that is because of our senior leaders.
“We struggled early in the season and things really turned around when our older girls stepped up and took charge.”
Following today’s games, the remainder of the region tournament will be played at Johnson of Savannah. Second round games will be held Wednesday, with the tournament semifinals and consolation/finals scheduled for Thursday and Friday, respectively.