By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – Sophomore Ansleigh Giordano might be the answer to the Effingham County softball team's graduation woes.
The Rebels had five players sign to play in college from a 27-win, Columbus-bound 2022 season. Growing pains were ahead, right?
Not so fast. In the season-opener on Aug. 8 against Richmond Hill, Giordano pitched a no-hitter, slugged a home run, and drove in three to lead ECHS to a surprisingly easy 11-0 victory, called after five innings because of the Mercy Rule.
"We definitely have to pick up the pitching after Rylee (Mills) left, but I think we'll do well this year," Giordano said. "Tonight I felt loose. I had good energy coming out. I think it was a good way to start the season."
The right-hander walked the first batter of the game before retiring the next 15 in order. Giordano struck out nine. Only two balls were hit out of the infield.
Giordano, batting third in the lineup, also belted a long two-run homer to highlight the Rebels' eight-run fourth inning.
A good way to start the season? Really, it couldn't have been better for ECHS, which applied the fourth-inning knockout blow and the one-two-three Richmond Hill fifth just before a threatening thunderstorm rolled in.
All nine batters in the Rebels' lineup had hits and the team collected seven extra-base hits. Olivia Morgan and Emma Reynolds had two doubles apiece.
But the night belonged to Giordano, who drove in ECHS' first run with a sacrifice fly and fanned a Richmond Hill batter for the final out.
"Ansleigh's a gem to have and we have Ava (Wingate), a first-team all-region (pitcher) to go with her," Rebels coach Brad Thompson said. "We don't have a one-two punch, it's more like a 1A and 1B."
ECHS had a big void to fill after Mills, the Region 2-6A Player of the Year, graduated and left for Coastal Georgia. Mills pitched in the Rebels' big games for four years. She led the team in 2022 with a .461 batting average as well.
Giordano pitched only 24.1 innings last season, but posted encouraging numbers – a 5-0 record, an 0.86 earned run average with 35 strikeouts and just three walks.
Only two years ago, Mills blanked Richmond Hill 2-0 in the region championship game.
And now Giordano has a game to remember against Richmond Hill.
"Obviously, Ansleigh brings a powerful stick with her," Thompson said. "She just plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. She prepares. She works hard. She does things after hours and it shows in her game."
ECHS lost its second game of the week, a 3-1 decision to Statesboro High in eight innings on Aug. 11.
Rebels Volleyball sweeps season openers
Effingham County's volleyball team opened the season with 2-0 victories over New Hampstead (25-20, 25-22) and Habersham (25-20, 25-14) on Aug. 10 at ECHS.
The Rebels have a big week ahead hosting matches against St. Vincent's and Savannah Arts on Aug. 15 before playing Savannah Christian and Richmond Hill on Aug. 17.