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With county championship series behind them, Rebels, Mustangs looking to improve
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The Rebels and Mustangs meet in the infield after Game 2 at Rebel Field on Feb. 13. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
It prepares us for what we’ve got to do during our region (2-AAAAAA) games with the three-game series, the pitching and everything that goes into it. That’s the way I look at it.
Rebels head coach Chris Johnson

SPRINGFIELD — There was a clear winner in the battle for the 2019 Effingham County baseball championship.

The Effingham County Rebels polished off a three-game, season-opening series sweep of South Effingham with a 6-3 triumph at Rebel Field on Friday. Effingham County took the Feb. 11 opener at home 3-2 and prevailed 8-3 two days later at South Effingham.

Despite the lopsided outcome, Rebels head coach Chris Johnson and Mustangs head coach Todd Eubanks offered similar comments following Friday’s finale.

Starting off with a big rivalry and playing three games the first week of the season is difficult,” Johnson said. “There is no doubt it, but it does seem to raise the kids’ focus level and ability level to face kids they grew up playing against and who have a really good baseball team that is really well coached by Coach Eubanks. For that part of it, it’s worth what we do in the first week of the season.

“It prepares us for what we’ve got to do during our region (2-AAAAAA) games with the three-game series, the pitching and everything that goes into it. That’s the way I look at it.”

Eubanks echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“It’s the first week,” he said. “The county championship doesn’t mean a whole lot. Region championships and state championships are what you play the season for and our goal, which is still in front of us, is to get better everyday.

“We are going to compete and try to get better so that we are better when region (play) starts so that we can be one of the best teams in (2-AAAAA) and have a chance to go on.”

Johnson knows fans and players don’t look at the rivalry the same way coaches do.

“To the kids, it’s a really big thing and to the community it’s a really big thing,” he said a few minutes after having the contents of a cooler dumped on him during a celebration.

Eubanks said the Rebels dominated the series for a simple reason

“It’s definitely not the way we wanted to start out but the bottom line is that the team that executed the best all week won all three ball games,” he said. “We had our chances. We’d take the lead on them, they’d bounce back and make plays, and we didn’t. Hats off to that team and Coach Johnson.

“They did what they had to do and we didn’t.”

Johnson had an explanation for the Rebels’ resiliency.

“A lot of that is due to the experience of these kids,” he said. “For a lot of them, this is their third year of starting. That is a credit to (former Rebels head) Coach (Brett) Griffin and the other coaches who have been here.”

Top-of-the-order hitters Christian Campbell and Ryan Harley were offensive catalysts for the Rebels in Games 2 and 3.

The winning pitchers were Avery Elenbaas and Merritt Evans.