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High school softball: Playoffs will come with new wrinkles in 2022. Here's what to expect.
Cherokee Bluff faces Madison County on Oct. 4, 2022 in Flowery Branch. - photo by Bill Murphy

October is normally the time of year in which the jockeying for postseason position in high school softball really begins to heat up throughout Georgia.

The same is true this year, except that it will have a very different look to it, particularly for Hall County’s teams.

For one thing, there will be no postseason region tournaments that most of the local Georgia High School Association teams have become accustomed to. 

And that development is likely related to a major changes in the GHSA’s postseason format leading up to the eight-team state tournaments in each classification, which will remain intact in its traditional location at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus from Oct. 27-29.

Instead of the usual two rounds of best-of-three playoff series to determine the eight state tournament teams in each class, there will be eight separate double-elimination “Super Regional” tournaments that will be hosted by region champions played from Oct. 18-21.

According to the softball portion of the Georgia Dugout Club’s website, the change, which will stay in place for at least this year and next year, was necessary due to a continuing shortage of umpires qualified to officiate statewide and to make sure that all state postseason games will have three umpires per game, instead of the two that had become common in early-round playoff series.

The change will definitely alter how teams approach the postseason, and especially the home stretch of the regular season.

And at least one of Hall County’s coaches is taking a wait-and-see approach to his opinion on it.

“With no region tournament, it makes every game mean something,” said North Hall coach Ryan Hill. “It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded at the end of the (regular) season if you have a region tournament. As long as you were one of those teams to make it into the region tournament, you have a chance. With the (new format), every game during the (regular) season means something, so  … you’ve got important games every Tuesday and Thursday.

“(The Super Regional) kind of puts a couple of rounds all together in the first round. … I think it’s more of a wait-and-see (situation) right now. … If you lose (in the first round of the Super Regional), you’ve got to win more than just the next two (to advance). So you’re preparing for a bunch of games rather than just a best two out of three.”

Of course, for the new format to be relevant to any team, that team has to finish as one of the top four seeds from its region after regular season play.

And in Region 8-4A, North Hall is just one of three county teams, and four teams overall, in a mad scramble to be one of those qualifiers for a Super Regional.

The Trojans (11-10, 6-8 in region play), Cherokee Bluff (10-12, 8-7), East Hall (11-10, 7-8) and Madison County (13-12, 8-7) came into Tuesday’s action trying to claim the region’s No. 4 seed behind Walnut Grove, East Forsyth and North Oconee with the rest of this week and next week still to play.

And with Madison County playing both North Hall and Cherokee Bluff this week and the Bears playing East Hall next Tuesday, there are a lot of different possibilities.

That situation represents one of the cons of the new playoff format, and thus eliminating region tournaments, but Cherokee Bluff coach Josh Joiner points out there are also some pros to it.

“It’s going to be crazy,” Joiner said of the mad dash for the No. 4 seed in Region 8-4A this week and next. “That’s what’s so unfortunate about the way things are (currently) set up. We’ve got so many really good teams in our region. I was at Peachtree Ridge (a few years ago), … and my first year there, we were the fifth seed, and we got (an) at-large bid (in the 7A playoffs) and we ended up going to the Final Four. … So, I kind of feel like that hurts a region like ours where there are so many good teams battling for four spots.

“There are (a lot of pros and cons). Personally, I don’t mind the change. It gives us a little more time to practice. It stretches our season out a week, so there’s a little bit of relief there. And also, it kind of eliminates the one (tough pitcher) mowing everybody down (in two games) throughout the whole playoffs. But at the same time, I do kind of like the idea of getting to experience different places, getting to travel two different times throughout the process of the playoffs.”

Meanwhile, the other Hall team that will likely be involved in the Super Regionals is Flowery Branch (15-9, 9-4), which came into Tuesday’s game against Eastside in second place in Region 8-5A.

The Falcons, who made it to Columbus for the Class 4A tournament a year ago, follow Tuesday’s game against the fourth-place Eagles with home games against third-place Winder-Barrow on Thursday and region leader Loganville on Monday before closing out the regular season with a home non-region game against Parkview and a trip to Clarke Central next week.

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