SPRINGFIELD — Baseball season is right around the corner and for the Effingham County team that’s means another challenging season in Class AAAAA. The Rebels are ready to get the bats rolling and are hoping to clinch another 2-AAAAAA title under first-year head coach Chris Johnson.
"Coach Brett Griffin did a great job leading them," Johnson said, referring to the Rebels’ longtime coach who stepped down last season. "Our expectation is that they are going to come back, work hard and do what it takes to have a chance to be in that same position. We take it one game at a time. The top four teams in the region go to the playoffs. We want to be one of those four.
“A region championship is special. We are hoping to achieve that but there's a lot of great teams in our region.”
That goal starts with star pitcher Ethan Johnson. The senior had a year to remember in 2018 and looks to add to his incredible showing on the mound this season.
"He's pitched a lot over the last four years," Johnson said. “He's been a steady force in their pitching staff. He's going to get a lot of starts and I expect that we’ll have quality starts every time he steps on the pitcher’s mound.
“He has a great mentality of not giving in. I think he'll be our leader as far as our pitcher’s go."
The Rebels have a good mix of youth and experience but a host of seniors have laid the blueprint to follow. Jordan Rahn, Christian Campbell, JD Coleman, Ryan Harley, Chandler Hinely and Jerid Stokes are among the veteran group, along with Avery Ellensbaas, Chase Howze, Holden Fields and JR Lonon.
"They’ve been on the field with a lot of energy, a lot of effort and trying to get better at everything we are asking them to do," Johnson said. "We are throwing a lot of new stuff at them. They are doing a great job. I am proud of them. Everyone is buying in. They are working really hard.
“We've had great leadership from our senior group that's been here."
The strength of the team lies within its offense. Johnson says the Rebels are currently focusing their attention on all things defense.
"We're really focusing hard on the defensive side and trying to get our pitchers ready to toe the mound and give us a chance in these baseball games to win these games," Johnson said. "We're working hard swinging the bats, too, but our emphasis at this point is on our pitching and defense and then our hitting will progress. And the kids are buying into it."
Effingham County’s exit from the second round of the state playoffs last season at the hands of Grovetown was a disappointing turn of events. The Rebels, however, are only concerned about what's in front of them and will keep that same approach moving forward.
"We have to continue to progress one day at a time, one game at a time," Johnson said.
The Rebels’ 2-AAAAAA foes include Bradwell Institute, Brunswick, Glynn Academy and Richmond Hill. They will have their hands full from start to finish and Johnson said it will be the pitching staff from these opponents that will make those games challenging.
"There's quality pitching every game," Johnson said. "Everybody is going to have three starters they can run out there. All of these teams have the expectation of winning the region and going to the state playoffs. You're going to have bring your best.
“These kids understand they have to play hard to have a chance."
Effingham County will scrimmage Hilton Head Island on Feb. 6 before opening the season at home Feb. 11 against South Effingham.