By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — A region championship, a spot in the Elite Eight state tournament at Columbus — those are reasonable goals for South Effingham softball every year, says first-year coach Adam Newland.
Newland replaced coach Jessica Evans in the spring, but the Effingham native isn’t a newcomer to the Mustangs’ history of success.
In the last 10 years, according to MaxPreps, SEHS has averaged more than 23 wins a season — eight times winning 20 or more games in a season with five region championships.
The Mustangs finished ranked in the top 10 of its classification seven times during the last decade.
“When you take over a program that’s had a lot of success, you’re trying to figure out what are the things that worked and you want to keep doing, and what are the things that we can add, change and do better,” Newland said. “Regardless of how much success you have as an individual or a team, there are always places to look at and get better.”
SEHS won 23 games last season and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
But expectations are always rising.
“To the kids’ credit, we’ve introduced a lot of new things and they’ve done a good job of taking coaching and adapting,” Newland said. “We’ve seen growth and improvement across the board. We have a group of hard-working kids, that’s for sure. We don’t have to hassle them to step it up and go harder.”
Newland inherits a group with only three seniors, but the youthful Mustangs trot out a lineup experienced in winning. Junior righthander Bailey Kendziorski was in control last season, striking out 134 and walking just 13 with an 0.91 earned run average in 102 1/3 innings en route to Region 2-AAAAAA Pitcher of the Year honors.
While Kendziorski should get the bulk of the innings on the mound, Newland hopes to build a supporting staff with sophomore Izzy Wilkins, senior Haylee Johnson and junior Makayla Croft.
In the field, junior third baseman Whitney Thompson, batted .377 and made first-team all-region, and sophomore shortstop Kenzie Ergle was second-team all-region.
Junior catchers Emma Darrow and Jaden Burns have made good first impressions this summer. Burns was a starter last season.
Newland said seniors Peighton Capwell and Hailey Roman should figure in the outfield mix.
Other positions are still up in the air as the Mustangs softball season begins with non-region games against Tattnall Square and North Atlanta on Saturday.
“We’re still in the process of evaluating positions,” Newland said. “Our big date is Aug. 18 when we start region (against Grovetown). We’ll use our preseason games and non-region schedule to evaluate the players.”