Three softball teams will begin play in the Georgia High School Association state playoffs on Wednesday, and all three coaches preached a similar approach going into the games:
Focus on the minor details, make the routine plays and treat this game as any other during the season.
That’s the focus for Harris County, Columbus and Northside, the first two of which will hose games the opening series (Glynn Academy and Ridgeland, respectively). Northside will be on the road at Effingham County.
“I don’t know if the approach is all that different,” said Northside (15-17) coach Brandon Jenkins. “With us, I just wanted to make sure we got a lot of the little things out of the way. Make the routine plays. The spectacular plays take care of themselves if you make the routine plays.” Harris County (23-7) coach Brook Zuerner shared almost the exact same message.
“We’ve been preaching all season that, regardless of the situation, we just have to be us,” she said. “Focus on the team and what it takes to win. Take care of ourselves, make the routine plays and the big plays will take care of themselves.”
It’s been a winning formula all year for those teams, particularly Harris County and Columbus, which each won their region to earn a top seed. Lady Blue Devils coach Chad Mathis warned not to put too much emphasis into seeding, however.
“When you talk about our region, Alexander, Carrollton and LaGrange were all teams that could have been the top seed, too,” he said.
Rather than taking that as a sign that his team is more prepared because of the difficulty of its schedule, Mathis said that reminds him the same could be true for any other region in the state.
“Sometimes that 4-seed is as good as the 1-seed,” he said. “That’s what scares me. When you get to this point, everyone is where they’re at for a reason. They may be a 4-seed, but until you get out there and play, it’s hard to say how good they are.”
It isn’t hard, however, to say how good Columbus has been.
Led by junior pitcher Mary Catherine Smith, the Lady Blue Devils (21-7) have been a consistent force for most of the season. Mathis said his hope is that his team has learned how to adjust well for situations that are sure to arise in the postseason.
Zuerner said Harris County will take the “faceless enemy” approach into its series with Glynn Academy, electing to worry about its own play rather than putting too much stock into scouting its opponent.
“We’ve checked them out here and there, but I think it’s better for us to focus on us,” she said.
Harris County will send Kayla Cotton to the circle, who has been the go-to pitcher all season.
Northside, entering the playoffs with a losing record and facing top-seeded Effingham County, will have a little bit more of an uphill climb, but it’s a climb Jenkins believes his team has made well all year.
Jenkins said he does know a little about his opponent, and stressed it will be important to limit the production of its top two hitters in the order.
That job will come down to Cora Beth Hudgins in the circle.
“If we can get those two out, we’ll give ourselves a good chance to slow them down,” Jenkins said.
First round schedule
Northside at Effingham County: Game 1, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; Game 2, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; Game 3 (if necessary), 5 p.m. Thursday.
Ridgeland at Columbus: Game 1, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; Game 2, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; Game 3 (if necessary), TBD.
Glynn Academy at Harris County: Game 1, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; Game 2, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; Game 3 (if necessary), TBD.