The stage is set for a girls’ soccer showdown between rivals that could determine who wins hosting rights in the first round of the state playoffs.
Jackson County Comprehensive High School will host East Jackson Comprehensive High School 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Entering this week, the Lady Panthers were 3-1 in conference play and idling in fourth place in the region 8-AAA standings, with three region games left. Their opponents include no. 3 Oconee County and no. 2 EJCHS. (JCCHS hosts Oconee County 5:30 p.m. Friday).
The scheduling forces the Panthers (8-3 overall) to climb in order to retain a no. 4 or better to advance to the playoffs.
EJCHS, meanwhile, is 4-2 in region play and no. 2 in the standings with only Jackson County left as far as 8-AAA opponents. That makes next week’s game between the cross-town foes a critical one for the Eagles if they have any shot of retaining their no. 2 status and with it, home field advantage in the playoffs.
North Oconee (8-2-2, 4-0) is no. 1 and in a favorable position to lock up the title but must get past Morgan County, Franklin County and rival Oconee County — which also has to fend off a strong Morgan County team for the fourth spot.
“A win against Jackson County is very important,” coach Ruth Collins said. “It is the game that we have been training for all season. Of course, pride is at stake, but so is a good playoff position. As with any inter-county rivalry there is a lot of anxiety about the game. Jackson County has a very strong team with a lot of talent. Girls on both teams have played together on club teams, each team knows which players to watch out for.”
Both coaches point to focus in the homestretch as a key to securing the critical region wins needed to progress.
JCCHS coach Joe Ridgway said his team is playing well and trained over the break with players practicing on their ball work.
This week, the team returned to action with two non-region matches, losing to Winder-Barrow High School 2-1 and meeting the talented Oglethorpe County High School (10-1-1) on Tuesday at home. (Results were unavailable at press time.)
The Panthers feed off higher-ranked competition and were eager to meet Oglethorpe County High School, ranked no. 5 in AA.
“It will be a playoff type atmosphere for us,” Ridgway said.
He credited the team’s defense, which has recorded seven shutouts this season.
“Defenders Allison Reilly, Kourtney Axelberg, Susan Jean, Gabbi Kastner, Maddie Newton, and keeper Vic Fontana have posted seven shut outs out of ten games and have only given up nine goals all season,” Ridgway said, before the WBHS game. “Offensively we have scored 72 goals. Captains Sydney Baird and Kaitlyn Parker have been great in the midfield, setting up our forwards for great chances on goal. Katie Phillips has scored 33 goals so far to help us keep our top ten ranking and our chances for a playoff birth within our grasp.”