In many previous years, Bibb County schools would already be done with baseball.
The county normally sends between one and three teams to the state playoffs, but it has been rare that those teams have won playoff series.
This year, however, is decidedly different.
Three Bibb County teams will take the field today in the second round of the state playoffs. Central, Howard and Rutland all won first-round series.
“I guess Bibb County has a little baseball talent,” said Central head coach Wayne Holleman, who led his team to the second round following a first-round series win over Fitzgerald. “We have talented players and good coaches. I think it says a lot about how baseball is becoming stronger in Bibb County.”
Baseball has improved, Bibb County athletics director Raynette Evans said, with the opening of Rutland and Howard. Both situated in baseball-intense communities, the schools have helped bring attention to the county’s baseball programs. Along the way, Central has improved under the leadership of Holleman and battling against county rivals.
“This has absolutely been a pleasant surprise,” Evans said. “This is certainly an exciting time for baseball in Bibb County. It takes time to get better, but we’re making gains. This is just an unprecedented season.”
This is the first time in county history that three programs have advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Many believe it could be the first that more than one school has made it past the first round.
Prior to this year, Westside was the only program to make it past the first round during the past 20 years. This was the first time in Evans’ 22 years as athletics director that two county programs hosted first-round playoff games.
“I think we’ve raised the bar and raised the expectations,” she said. “I’m excited for the community and the players and the coaches.”
Rutland seemed to the be school most due for a playoff win. The Hurricanes had been close for a while, making to the playoffs for three straight seasons beginning in 2007. After getting swept in its first two playoff appearances, Rutland broke through last year when it pushed Thomson to a third game in the opening round. But the Hurricanes lost 10-4 and were eliminated again.
This season, the freshmen who helped Rutland make its first playoff run in 2007 became seniors. And they led Rutland to a fourth consecutive playoff appearance, but it had to travel to Worth County as the No. 4 seed from GHSA Region 4-AAA.
The Hurricanes didn’t struggle at all, dispatching Worth County 9-2 and 12-2 for a series sweep. They will play Troup on the road at 7 p.m. today.
Howard was also poised for a breakthrough after an impressive first season. The Huskies went undefeated in region play in 2009, but they were swept by Bleckley County (10-0, 6-5) in the opening road.
Bolstered by the return of nearly the entire roster, the Huskies had expectations to improve on a 20-win season.
Head coach Danny Slaughter led the Huskies to a 14-1 region record and another 20-win season overall. This time around, the Huskies had no struggles in the first round when they swept Brooks County (9-4, 12-0). They host Pierce County today.
Central will join the Hurricanes on the road. The Chargers will travel to Appling County after breaking through with their playoff win over Fitzgerald. Winners of 23 games, the Chargers are having their best season in 25 years.
“This is very special,” senior Kelcey Butts said. “This is what you dream of, and it makes it more special to do it with Rutland and Howard.”