As the state high school softball postseason moves to its second round of best-of-three playoff series this afternoon, Gwinnett County will once again be represented.
And with nine teams still alive, there figures to be a strong local contingent when the scene shifts to Columbus for the state championship tournament Oct. 28-30.
4:30 p.m. Archer at Collins Hill (DH)
5 p.m. Grayson at Cherokee (DH)
5 p.m. Mill Creek at Brookwood (DH)
5 p.m. Parkview at Lassiter (DH)
4 p.m. Dade County at Buford (DH)
5 p.m. GAC at Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe (DH)
2:30 p.m. George Walton at Providence (DH)
• Grayson at Cherokee (if necessary)
5 p.m. Parkview at Lassiter (if necessary)
5:30 p.m. Archer at Collins Hill (if necessary)
6 p.m. Mill Creek at Brookwood (if necessary)
5 p.m. Dade County at Buford (if necessary)
• GAC at Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe (if necessary)
4:30 p.m. George Walton at Providence (if necessary)
That could particularly be the case in Class AAAAA, where six of the remaining eight teams in the northern sectional playoff bracket are area teams, including a pair of all-Gwinnett matchups — with Cinderella second-year program Archer (21-9-1) traveling to take on defending state champion Collins Hill (27-2-1) and Region 8-AAAAA champion Brookwood playing host to Mill Creek.
“We pride ourselves in how well we play, just like they do over in Cobb and Cherokee and out there,” Brookwood coach Bill Batchelor said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to play each other in this round, but (being just a round away from Columbus) is a great place to be.
“It’s definitely a brutal matchup this time of year. Whoever gets hot will win. You’ve got to come ready to play. The series can go either way.”
That may be especially true with the Brookwood-Mill Creek series, which features two teams with very similar strengths.
Both teams have strong hitting lineups from top to bottom, with the Broncos (30-6) featuring the likes of Jessica Neidigh, Megan Litume and Brandi Jones, while the Hawks (24-6) countering with a batting order led by Nikki Sagermann and Jenna Holland.
But it is the two pitching staffs that may provide the most intriguing matchups.
Both teams have been able to alternate two pitchers — Jones and Rachel Hill for Brookwood and Caroline Wilson and Lauren Kaczynski for Mill Creek — with equal effectiveness.
“If we feel like we need to give (an opponent) a different look, we’ll bring one or the other in,” Batchelor said. “These are two pretty similar teams. ... We both hit the ball very well, and (Mill Creek) is definitely well coached. (Hawks coach Roger Parham) will have them ready, and our kids will have to come ready to play.”
So will Gwinnett’s other Class AAAAA teams, which will face tough opposition from the Northwestern suburbs. Parkview (20-9) travels to east Cobb to meet Lassiter (21-12) in a battle of two teams coming off dramatic, three-game first-round series and Grayson (19-10-1) plays at Region 5-AAAAA champion Cherokee (21-11).
The road to Columbus won’t be any easier for Gwinnett’s smaller classification schools remaining, not even three-time defending Class AA champion Buford (26-4), which plays host to Dade County (24-12).
Meanwhile, Gwinnett’s other remaining Class AA team — GAC (21-13) — has an even tougher assignment in traveling up north to take on Region 7-AA champion Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (31-1).
But perhaps the toughest matchup might be facing Gwinnett’s lone remaining Class A team, Providence Christian (22-10-2).
The Region 5-A champion Stars welcome George Walton Academy (14-3) for a series this afternoon.
The Bulldogs are one of three teams left in the northern bracket making their first GHSA postseason appearance after moving up from GISA this season.
And Providence coach Scotty Strong admits he’s not quite sure what to expect from them, though he is confident a veteran squad returning from last year’s third-place finish at state — including senior Kylie Kleinschmidt, junior Lauren Eggert and sophomore Jessie Kowalewicz — will be ready.
“We’ve seen their scores and who they’ve been competing with, but they will be kind of the unknown,” Strong said of GWA. “From what I’ve heard, their team is young, but well-coached. They make teams earn what they get. But I feel good with the experience we have in the playoffs. Hopefully, we’ll play our best ... because anything can happen in the playoffs.
“If we play our game and play relaxed, I think we’ll be OK.”