Northside softball head coach Brandon Jenkins’ team had little trouble through the regular season and the region tournament. Jenkins, however, knows as well as anyone that those triumphs mean little with Wednesday’s start to the state tournament.
“From here on out, we’re two losses away from our season being over,” said Jenkins, whose team hosts Mary Persons. “It can happen to anybody. We’ve got to stay focused and take care of things one game at a time.”
Jenkins’ Lady Patriots are one of four local teams that begin their state tournament play Wednesday, with three of those teams being in Region 1-4A. The opening round’s best-of-three setup lowers the chances of a fluke knocking a team out but still leaves the room for error very small.
Winning has almost become commonplace for Northside, but Jenkins said he was pleased with how his team stayed focused in the region tournament last week. Jenkins pointed to the tournament’s final game — a 7-2 victory over Columbus — as something that can prove useful in Northside’s push for a state championship.
The Lady Blue Devils kept pace with the Lady Patriots until late in the goings, showing Jenkins’ players there are no chances to look ahead.
“I think that could be a very positive thing for us moving forward, to let them know Hannah George may not have her best game every time she goes out to pitch, or we may not swing it like we should,” Jenkins said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
Like Northside, Columbus gets to host its opening round matchup against Perry. Head coach Jamie Wilson said she stressed to her players all season that it was important to peak at the right time.
Judging from the Lady Blue Devils’ second-place finish, they’ve done just that.
“I feel like the region tournament solidified that we’re getting to where we need to get,” Wilson said. “Our hitting has improved immensely, and that’s something we’ve been working on the last three weeks. The girls have really started coming together and doing what they need to do to get the job done.”
The region’s third and fourth seeds — Cairo and Hardaway — will travel for the opening round.
Hardaway head coach Bill Stohr’s team dealt with several injuries in the region tournament, but the Lady Hawks were able to do enough to punch the postseason ticket. Stohr has been pleased with his team’s progress at the plate but added that eliminating mistakes will be key in advancing.
“I always stress that we need to do the little things right,” said Stohr, whose team travels two hours to face West Laurens. “If you take care of the routine plays, everything else works out. We just have to stay away from one bad inning. When we’ve stayed away from that, we’ve held our own against most teams.”
All three of the coaches are well aware that regular season and region tournament victories are effectively meaningless. Now, it’s just a matter of their players doing as much as they can in hopes of extending the season.
“The main thing I want to see from my team is that we’re playing with a bunch of passion, like we want to be there and like our lives depend on winning,” Stohr said. “If we’re going to lose, I want to go down fighting.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports
Six local teams have made the state softball tournament in their respective classifications. Their first-round doubleheader matchups are as follows:
Class 5A: No. 4 Ware County at No. 1 Harris County, 3 p.m.
Class 4A: No. 4 Hardaway at No. 1 West Laurens, 4 p.m.
Class 4A: No. 3 Perry at No. 2 Columbus (Lakebottom Park), 4:30 p.m.
Class 4A: No. 4 Mary Persons at No. 1 Northside, 5 p.m.
Class A Public: Marion County First Round Bye
Class A Private: Brookstone First Round Bye