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ECHS avoids sweep with extra-inning win over Grovetown
Kris Swinney
Freshman Kris Swinney (No.30) gave the Rebels' offense a lift with two hits during a 3-2 victory over Grovetown in the second game of a doubleheader last March 28. (Photos by Mark Lastinger/Effingham Herald.)

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald


SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County baseball coach Eric McCombie tells his players all the time that Ronald Acuna isn’t walking through the stadium gates to help bail out the Rebels.

Not that the Atlanta Braves star and 2023 National League Most Valuable Player wouldn’t be welcomed, but …

“We have who we have so we have to keep working together and standing behind each other,” McCombie said.

It’s been a rough two weeks for Rebels, who lost five of their six region games. The bright spot of the fortnight came last Friday night when ECHS finally caught a break. Grovetown bungled Newton Kieffer’s sacrifice bunt with a hurried throw that sailed down the right-field line, allowing Q King to score from first base for a 3-2 victory in eight innings.

ECHS (7-14 overall, 3-6 Region 2-6A) lost two of the three games against Grovetown and dropped to fifth place in the seven-team region with a three-game series against Brunswick on deck.

The series began with a single game April 1 in Brunswick before coming to Springfield today (Wednesday, April 3), then returning to Brunswick on Friday (April 5).

“We have to pitch better, we have to play defense better, there’s a lot of things we have to do better,” McCombie said. “It seems like when you’re going through a rough stretch everything is amplified. One bad thing and everyone is like, ‘here we go again.’ We have to change that mindset. It has to be ‘so what, just because that happened doesn’t mean everything else has to happen.’ ”

The Grovetown series was a perfect example. In Game 1 on March 26, the Rebels led 5-1 with starter Wes Ward cruising along. Then came a one-hour lightning delay in the sixth inning. McCombie decided to go to the bullpen for the final three outs, but his relievers could find the plate and the Panthers struck for five runs and won 6-5.

In the opener of a doubleheader on March 28, ECHS starting pitcher Dylan Huntley surrendered a flyball that was lost in the sun. Two walks followed, then a wild pitch to bring in a run and then a home run to plate three more runs.

Five batters into the game the Rebels trailed 4-0. But Huntley pitched one-hit ball for the next 5.2 innings. During one stretch, he retired 14 batters in a row with six strikeouts.

“Huntley didn’t have his feel at the start and worked his way through it. (His command during the last five innings), that’s the guy we think we have,” McCombie said.

The Rebels rallied and had the potential tying and winning runners on base in the seventh inning, but fell short 4-3.

Kaleb Pendley
Effingham County sophomore Kaleb Pendley pitched six scoreless innings but did not get the decision in the Rebels' 3-2 win over Grovetown in the nightcap of a doubleheader last Thursday night, March 28. (Photo by Mark Lastinger/Effingham Herald.)
In the nightcap, sophomore Kaleb Pendley pitched six scoreless innings and left with a 2-0 lead. The bullpen again couldn’t hold the lead and Grovetown tied the game in the seventh.

ECHS found a way to win in the bottom of the eighth to avoid a second straight series sweep.

“Like I’ve said a million times, these guys are inexperienced (just one senior in the starting lineup) and they’re going through growing pains, but there’s still three weeks of the season left so we have to tighten up,” McCombie said.