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Lady Jets leave for nationals

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

The South Georgia Tech women's basketball team is preparing for Tuesday's first round of the NJCAA tournament in Salina, Kansas. That's where coach Brandan Harrell's Lady Jets will face 2008 national champ Gulf Coast Community College -- a team based three hours down the road in Panama City, Fla. -- at 4 p.m.

"I know, we could have had that game in Marianna (Fla.) or somewhere, right?" joked Harrell, whose team is 29-5.

The two teams scrimmaged in the preseason with the Lady Commodores winning handily, according to Harrell.

"They've got a couple of really good guards and their post play is pretty good," said Harrell, whose team won its first region tourney and recently captured the District J title with a 64-50 win against Guilford Tech. "Gulf Coast is just Gulf Coast. They turn out great teams every year."

Last year, the South Georgia Tech men advanced to nationals and Harrell -- whose team leaves for Kansas on Sunday morning -- said he hopes a tradition is being set.

"It's huge for the program with us still being a really young program in our sixth season," said Harrell, whose team leaves for Kansas today. "It's good for our program and school, and it's something that's your goal every year. To actually get there is a big accomplishment."

FAMILIAR FACE: On Thursday, ex-South Georgia Tech star Jamie McNeilly was part of one of major college basketball's bigger upsets Thursday. As a graduate manager at Marquette, he watched the Eagles upend fourth-ranked Villanova, 80-76, in the Big East tournament.

McNeilly, who at point guard helped lead the Jets to the a NJCAA Region XVII runner-up finish in 2004, finished his college career at the University of New Orleans and joined the Eagles' staff in 2008 after playing a year of pro basketball in Germany.

"He was very good," said South Georgia Tech coach Steven Wright, who was then a Jets assistant under Chris Wade. "He managed the game really well and was always a hard-working kid. He came in early and stayed late and always asked questions. He was a really good floor leader for us and I certainly saw potential in him to be a coach."

These days, McNeilly works at Marquette the same head coach he played for at New Orleans -- Buzz Williams.

"Jamie is one of my all-time favorites," Williams told Scout.com in the summer about McNeilly, recalling when he coached him in New Orleans. "More than any other player I have ever coached, he was passionate on a daily basis and gave everything he had to give, without fail."

There could be ANOTHER South Georgia Tech connection at Marquette next season because ex-Jet Jae Crowder -- who was the 2009 Region Player of the Year -- has committed to play for Marquette. Currently, Crowder plays at Howard (Texas) Junior College where he averages 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. He returns to the national tourney in Hutchinson, Kan., where his current team faces Southeastern Illinois in today's first round at 2 p.m.

MAKING STRIDES: The Darton College baseball team started the season 0-5 and at one point was 1-8. Since then, coach Glenn Eames' Cavaliers have won six of the past 10 and are 7-12 overall as of Friday.

Eames coach credits the turnaround to consistently strong hitting and improved pitching. While the Cavaliers got plenty of run production from players such as Drew Shields, Freddy Garay and Tagg Lanier, bad pitching has allowed teams to pull even and then pull away.

"What I saw happening at the first of the season was us jumping to a big lead and then giving it up right back because of pitching," Eames said. "Our record would probably be flip-flopped if it weren't for that."

The Cavaliers, despite their losing record, have quality wins against teams like then No. 3-ranked Chipola, 14-13 last month.

"That's the encouraging thing," Eames said. "We've beaten some good programs."

SLOW START: The Darton softball team, which started the season eighth in the NJCAA, is only 9-7 as of Friday.

Lady Cavaliers coach David Dews, however, takes that in stride.

"You know, every season takes on its own form," said Dews, whose team finished the World Series last spring ranked eighth. "I know we should be playing a little bit better, but we're still trying to settle into a playing rhythm. It's hard to have that rhythm when you sometimes play games seven days a part due to the weather."

According to the region's Web site, Alix Cooper is third in hitting with a .478 average, three triples and two doubles and two RBI, followed by Eugenia Egiazarova (seventh, .438 three homers, one triple, two doubles, four RBI).

Darton pitcher Lindsey Croft has had the most consistent outings on the mound in Dews' eyes with four quality starts, but Dews added that depth on the mound should grow as pitchers get more settled into the rotation.

NEW LEAD-OFF GUY: Albany State Corbin Williams has grown into one of the Rams' best clutch hitters. During the Rams' first win against Florida A&M earlier this week, Williams delivered a two-out, two-run single in a 12-8 win.

What made the win more fascinating was that the Rams used a different pitcher in each of the nine innings.

"I don't even remember who the winning pitcher was, I don't know how you score that," Rams coach Edward Taylor laughed. "We went with a rightie and a leftie and a rightie and a leftie and on and on."

Nine pitchers might have contributed to the Rams' win that day, but Taylor added Williams brought something special to the batting order.

"He's got great speed, he can run like a rabbit," said Taylor, whose team is 10-7 overall and 3-0 in the SIAC. "On one of his hits against Florida A&M, he hit the ball to the shortstop and beat it out while there was no error."

BIG GSW MOMENT: The Georgia Southwestern baseball team received a vote in the Collegiate Baseball NCAA Division II poll, marking the first time any sport at the Americus school had received such a mention since making the transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.

Coach Bryan McLain, whose team is 9-4 overall and 3-0 in the Peach Belt Conference, said he is not surprised at his team's success.

"They're living up to the kind of expectations I had for them coming out of preseason practice," he said. "The guys are playing with a lot of confidence right now and that's a big part of it."

The Hurricanes rank third in the conference in batting average (.335) and are ninth in team ERA (5.14). Former Darton star Trent Dooley is third in the conference with a .462 batting average, and teammate Byron Haynes (.810) is fourth in slugging percentage and Jody Sellars tops the conference, not having allowed a run.