SAND HILLS — A winning tradition can be a burden or a blessing.
Perhaps it has been a little bit of both for this edition of Bozeman baseball, which takes a 19-7 record into its Region 2-1A semifinal 7 p.m. Tuesday against visiting Northview, 15-6.
The winner meets the Chipley-Liberty County survivor for a berth in the Class 1A Final Four. For Bozeman, it would be a third consecutive trip to the state semis.
“It’s been kind of funny, to be honest, but I think they’ve settled into it,” Bucks coach Jeff Patton said of Bozeman’s baseball tradition, which has become the school’s athletic identity.
“I think the pressure was” to get into the region playoffs. “In two district games, we played more as a team than I’ve seen us all year. During the year they would get onto themselves so badly. In the district tournament it was like, ‘Hey, pick me up. Our individual stuff doesn’t matter anymore.’”
Patton sensed a higher stress level in preseason while the roster was settling into becoming a ballclub.
“I think this team decided we’re not going to be the ones that didn’t hold onto the rope,” Patton said. “That ended the playoff run. I saw a look in their eyes in district like, ‘We’re not going to let this get away from us.’ So it’s more like taking a deep breath now and let’s go play.”
Patton said that he’s leaning toward starting sophomore pitcher Alec Aleywine (6-1) against Northview. Bozeman hasn’t played the Chiefs since 2010, but Patton was able to scout one of their district games.
Brandon Suttles also is an option on the mound. Then again, so is Reed Ruddick, and freshman Nicky Agosto has logged more than 30 innings. Having four competent pitchers is a luxury for any prep program, but exponentially so at the 1A level.
“The key to us lately is Agosto has really come on at shortstop, and at third base when Suttles is at short,” Patton said.
“I thought we would hit better at the beginning of year, but I kind of like where we are, we’ve swung the bats better. Matt Webb has had a nice season. He’s a sophomore and he just kept driving in runs (21) as we moved him up in the lineup. He solidified us the middle part of the season. Kept the ship going.”
Liberty County (13-13) at Chipley (20-7)
In early March, it wasn’t difficult to envision these two teams already having stored their gear by now.
Chipley was 6-6, and Liberty County an unplayoff-like 3-8. Yet they’re both a win away from a region final on May 13.
“Our basketball team was really good, and we had two (Daniel Floyd and Logan Justice) who were key members, so we struggled until we got everybody out there,” Chipley coach Andy Compton said.
“They missed our first six games, and once we got established who was going to be there it took us a few games to figure it out.”
Compton feels that the turning point for the Tigers came in a 1-0 loss to Holmes County.
“We figured out that night it was time to go, or we were going to struggle,” he said.
Justice is among a quintet of seniors who have spent four years on varsity and includes Jordan Finch, Dallas Oliver, Colby Wiggins and Nolan Spencer. Compton said that Finch or Floyd, the latter a sophomore, will start on the mound against Liberty County.
The Bulldogs don’t impress anyone with their record, or while getting off the bus for that matter, but they represent a battle-tested program that rises to the occasion.
“I saw them in their district final and they are scrappy,” Compton said. “Every year they are like that; I have a lot of respect for them.
“They have a lot of tradition.”