More than 30 of South Mississippi's baseball and softball programs will hit diamonds across the region Friday. Each of the teams have the same ultimate goal in mind, although their individual roads to Jackson vary.
It's been 11 years since the Bay High Tigers baseball team has even made the playoffs.
Under the direction of former Biloxi coach Kevin Burdine, the Tigers experienced a major turnaround this season, posting a 12-9 regular season record.
"I'm just proud of what the kids have done so far this year," Burdine said Thursday, prior to the Class 4A playoff opener. "We put in a lot of time and effort, starting in August."
Just stepping onto Columbia's field at 6:30 p.m. Friday isn't enough, however.
"One thing we told them is we don't want to just settle with making it to the playoffs," Burdine said. "We want to advance and set a standard moving forward to build the program."
The Tigers will host Columbia (13-8) for Game 2 at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Ocean Springs softball
Ocean Springs' Lady Greyhounds (11-8-1) open their march through the 6A playoffs Friday with a home doubleheader against Meridian set for a 5:30 p.m. start.
"I think we come into the playoff pretty strong," coach Lindsay O'Brien said.
OSHS will be without its seniors, who are on a senior trip, for the weekend series against the one-win Wildcats. Still, O'Brien is confident sophomore Samaya James and freshman Mikaila Fox can help lead the Greyhounds into the second round.
"I just expect offensively our group to step up," O'Brien said. "We've been led offensively by our freshmen and sophomores all year so I think we'll be OK."
James is second on the team with a .449 batting average. The right fielder also has eight extra-base hits on the season. Fox has been the "heart" of Ocean Springs' defense at shortstop, O'Brien said. She also leads the team with three homers and 19 RBIs to go along with a .333 batting average.
"She's so smart defensively, knowing situations and keeping everyone under control," O'Brien said. "She's the type of player who does all the little things to help win the big games."
The Vancleave Bulldogs (14-10) know what they're up against to open the Class 4A playoffs.
In the other dugout this weekend will be the Sumrall Bobcats, winners of five of the last 10 Class 3A state championships.
As such, coach Daniel Threadgill said no pep talk is needed prior to Friday's 6:30 p.m. opener at Sumrall.
"Their name is enough for our guys to get up. It's Sumrall," he said Wednesday. "I expect our guys to come locked in ready to play because of who we're playing."
The Bulldogs won four of their last five games, with narrow wins over Class 5A Hattiesburg and Class 6A George County.
"I think what we take away from those wins is we went into that Saturday relaxed," he said. "We can't get over amped up. I was proud of my guys after the George County and Hattiesburg games because it was a doubleheader after we took one on the chin the night before against East Central.
"That was a sign of maturity. Getting into the playoffs, you can't play tight and play not to get beat."
Vancleave hosts the Bobcats at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Like Bay's Tigers, Biloxi's softball team (12-6-1) hasn't had a lot of recent postseason success, with the program's last playoff victory coming back in 2011.
Former George County coach Bruce Thornton has turned the Lady Indians around -- but not without some late-season excitement. BHS had to rally late in two of its last three region games to clinch a postseason berth.
Thornton is hoping his Lady Indians can score a bit earlier when they host Terry (4-13) for a 5 p.m. doubleheader Friday.
"You don't want that to be a game or series where they're hanging around in fifth or six," he said. "If you can end it early in the playoffs and have an opportunity to do that you definitely want to do it."
St. Stanislaus baseball
One of the hottest Coast teams heading into this weekend's slate is the defending Class 4A champion St. Stanislaus Rockachaws (14-7). After a rocky start to the season, SSC has ripped off eight straight wins prior to Friday's 6 p.m. Class 4A home opener against Forrest County AHS (11-9).
"When we were down we had a couple tough practices. There are a lot of new guys, not new to our team but to varsity, and I think the more they played together the better we played," SSC coach Mark Logan said. "I just think it took a while. Hopefully we're gelling. This is when you have to play your best."