The Lady Buccaneers (24-9) will welcome the Lady Longhorns (17-8) for a best-of-three Class AAAAA second-round state playoff series, beginning with a doubleheader today, and then, if necessary, a decisive third game Thursday.
Region 5AAAAA champion Allatoona is hoping for its third straight trip to Columbus, while Kell, the No. 3 seed from Region 7AAAAA, will try to get back after falling in the second round a season ago.
The Lady Longhorns reached the finals in 2009 and ’10. The program also won Class AAAAA titles in 2003 and ’04.
“There’s a lot of excitement from the girls,” Kell coach Lindsay Faber said. “They’re playing well right now and can taste the opportunity in front of them. To get to that next point, we can’t look past Allatoona.
“We haven’t faced them much over the years, but a lot of my girls have seen them play in travel ball and have some insights on them. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, and we’re preparing for what they throw at us.”
Allatoona has also been preparing for an opponent it’s not as familiar with.
“In this, and in our previous, region cycle, we’ve only had a handful of non-region games remaining,” Allatoona coach Troy Pirkle said of the difficulties scheduling Kell. “We’ve been in a big region, and so has Kell, and those region games have to be played, and those dates were gobbled up.
“We’re encouraged to play non-region teams close to us, like Harrison and Kennesaw Mountain, and since (Kell and Allatoona) both host tournaments, that’s also made it difficult for us to schedule one another.”
Because of the unfamiliarity, experience and chemistry will likely factor in determining which team takes the series.
“We both have kids that have experience getting to that next level,” Pirkle said. “There’s a comfort level there that keeps the kids nice and loose and ready to play.”
Joining Kell and Allatoona in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs is Pope (23-5), which will host Region 8AAAAA runner-up Heritage-Conyers (30-3).
The Lady Greyhounds, in the second round for the second straight season, are hoping to make their first trip to the state finals.
Class AAAAAA has four teams remaining in the second round.
Region 4AAAAAA No. 3 seed Hillgrove (26-8), attempting to reach Columbus for the second straight season after making its first appearance a year ago, are visiting Region 2AAAAAA champion Alcovy (27-4-1).
Harrison (20-11) started the season 12-1, before losing 10 of its next 16 games due to injuries. The Region 4AAAAAA No. 4 Lady Hoyas did what they needed to do, however, to make the playoffs, and then upset Region 1AAAAAA champion Tift County in the first round.
Now, Harrison must take down Region 2AAAAAA runner-up Rockdale County (18-14) to advance to the state finals for the second time in three seasons.
“I honestly felt like we’d be in this position, even after all of the losses,” Harrison coach Matt Jones said. “I asked the girls to stay positive, and I told them that we’ll be the same team that was 12-1 when we get everybody back.
“We struggled, but we knew we were still that team, and we’ve proven that. Beating Tift County gave us confidence going into this series and we have a good chance.”
Region 4AAAAAA champion Kennesaw Mountain (27-3-2), which entered the postseason as the state’s top-ranked team, will host Region 3AAAAAA runner-up Newnan (19-13).
Lassiter’s road to Columbus may be the most difficult, with the Lady Trojans (28-5-1) visiting Peachtree Ridge (24-5) for their second-round series.
Lassiter, Region 5AAAAAA’s No. 4 team, beat Brookwood in three games in the first round last week, and it must now face the Region 7AAAAAA runner-up.
The Lady Trojans, who missed the state finals last year, won it all in 2007 and placed fourth in 2010.
“Any time you play a quality team like Brookwood at this time of the year, and come out on top, you feel like you’re performing well and you try to see what you did well to help you with the next one,” Lassiter coach Jason Campbell said.
“You can’t run and hide from anybody here. You have to beat the best to get (to Columbus). Are we battle-tested? Yeah, I think we’ve been battle-tested all year long. Are we prepared? We’ll see what happens with this series, but I think we are.”