The Houston County softball team is going to Columbus for the second time in three years, but the Bears have a tremendous hurdle in front of them if they want to make the trip worthwhile.
The Bears open the GHSA Class 6A championship Thursday against Creekview, which is 30-2, including 16-0 in Region 6-6A play.
“They are a super athletic team, they have lots of slappers, they have a lot of speed,” said Houston County head coach Angela Crawford, who is making her fourth trip to the quarterfinals as a head coach. “We’re excited. We’ve got a lot of work to get done between now and Thursday, but we’re excited for the opportunity to go back to Columbus.”
After a relatively easy run through the first-round series when they swept Richmond Hill, the Bears got another home series when Lakeside-Evans defeated sixth-ranked Mundy’s Mill. Houston County then defeated Lakeside 16-3 in consecutive games to punch its ticket to Columbus.
Both Houston County and Creekview have run-producing offenses, so the game is sure to be filled with fireworks.
“Offensively, we’ve done very well this season, so I think that’s been our strength,” Crawford said. “We’re gonna put pressure on your defense; we’re gonna make you throw us out and make you make plays defensively.”
That offense has been fueled by a team looking to win now while understanding that the future looks bright. The Bears’ starting lineup consists of two freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors and three seniors. That balance of playoff experience and youthful ignorance can be a plus when taking on top competition in Columbus.
“We’re a young team, but the good news is our juniors and our seniors were in Columbus in 2015,” Crawford said. “So I really plan on leaning on them throughout this experience of bringing our young kids and kind of walking them through stuff. Regardless of the big travel ball these kids play, Columbus is a unique experience all in itself.”
The Houston County senior leadership has been provided offensively by Grace Hardee, who leads the team with 16 home runs, and Taylor Peebles. The sophomore class has been stellar offensively, as well, with Mattie Campbell, Riley Lamb and Lauren Ross all having good seasons.
“When I first started, my first couple years, there wasn’t very many travel ball teams in this area that exposed the girls to higher level softball,” Crawford said while reflecting on the rise in talent in the area. “Ever since then, we’ve gotten great programs in Middle Georgia to help expose our kids at a young age to some very good softball, and in turn when they get to high school, they have a base skill level that definitely can help any program.”
That is easy to see this week. Houston County will be joined in Columbus by seven other local programs: Jones County, Perry, Rutland, FPD, Tattnall Square, Stratford and Mount de Sales.
Unlike the first two rounds, which are best-of-three series, the championship tournament in Columbus consists of the final eight teams competing in a double-elimination format.
“What I like better about the tournament itself is that anything can happen any given day,” Crawford said. “I really believe it’s how you handle Columbus. What is your purpose? I always try to talk to my girls about what kind of trip do you want. Do you want a field trip, or do you want a business trip? Are we happy that we got there, or do we want to take care of business?”