Dawson County coach Jimmy Pruett knows this final week of the regular season will determine a lot about the Region 7-AAA softball tournament. He knows a pair losses in the final two regular season games can send the Lady Tigers, currently the No. 2 seed, as low as fourth in what is expected to be a very competitive tournament.
Region 7-AAA is one of the most contested softball regions in the area, making most spots in the upcoming tournament almost anyone’s for the taking.
“You have to fight for positions two through eight,” Pruett said. “It is really balanced.
“Anybody can beat anybody. You have to show up with your ‘A game’ every day.”
The clear favorite is six-time defending state champion Buford, which has already locked down the No. 1 seed.
Despite the Lady Wolves’ commanding 21-1 overall record, including a perfect 11-0 record in region play, nothing is guaranteed when the tournament begins Saturday at Lanier Point Park in Gainesville.
East Hall, which finished with just five wins in 2012, has shown massive improvement this season. The Lady Vikings (11-13, 8-4 Region 7-AAA) have two games remaining — Tuesday against Fannin County and Thursday against Banks County — and will likely enter the region tournament as the No. 3 seed.
The rise of East Hall’s team this season has only added to the competitive nature of the region, which also includes Fannin County and Banks County, both of which are above .500.
“The maturity of my juniors and seniors, they came and we talked about our goals and what we wanted to work on in the offseason,” East Hall coach Jenny Crow said of her team’s turnaround.
“They put it in perspective and we came up with one team goal, which was be top four in the region and make the state playoffs.”
In Region 8-AAAAA, Flowery Branch is looking to secure its first trip to the state playoffs under coach Laura Beaver.
The Lady Falcons were 17-9 overall and 5-3 in region play during the regular season, good enough to secure the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye for this week’s tournament.
Instead of having a central location for the Region 8 tournament, each of the top four seeds will host in the second round. The Lady Falcons will likely host Winder-Barrow in a second-round doubleheader beginning at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, with Game 2 to follow at 7 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“You have got Heritage, Loganville, Apalachee, (Flowery Branch), and Winder-Barrow, and you look at any one of those teams and anything can happen in any of those games,” Beaver said. “Obviously, Heritage is 8-0 (in the region) and Apalachee is 7-1, but the other three teams are close in proximity to them.”
A win over their second-round opponent would put the Lady Falcons in the state tournament for the first time since the early days of the program and mark the program’s first state berth at any level higher than Class AAA.
With her team in prime position to make history, the key for Beaver is keeping her players focused on the task in front of them. Flowery Branch was swept by Salem in the second round last season.
“We ended up losing some key players right before the region tournament last year,” Beaver said. “We have most of those girls back and most of those girls are very aware of how close we came to making the state tournament last year. So, we try not to dwell on it and stress about it, but we also want to make sure they are focused and understand that from here on out there are no do-over games.”
Jackson County is also confident about making the state tournament. Heading into the Region 8-AAA tournament, the Lady Panthers (18-7, 10-2) are one of the top teams in the region, and can secure the top seed for the tournament with a pair of wins this week over North Oconee and Franklin County, the current No. 1 seed.
Jefferson High, the Panthers’ county rival, secured the regular season Region 8-AA championship last week and is the favorite to win the region tournament, which begins Oct. 8. The Lady Dragons will serve as a host to either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed.
The Region 8-AA championship game will be held Oct. 12 at the highest remaining seed’s home field.
“I just hope we can keep competing and playing good,” Jefferson coach Zach Black said. “We’ll see what happens.”