GUYTON — A new director helped South Effingham completely flip last year’s softball script.
The Lady Mustangs, losers of 20 games in 2019, improved to 23-2-1 Thursday by knocking off top-seeded Effingham County to clinch the Region 2-AAAAAA championship at The Corral.
“I can’t say that I came here expecting it but, to be honest, that’s always what I want,” said first-year South Effingham head coach Jessica Evans, whose team won the title game 7-1.
Evans made her objective clear when she introduced herself to her new team in the South Effingham auxiliary gym March 1. The former Lamar County head coach handed out an itinerary that listed an October trip to Columbus for the 2020 final four.
The journey to the 2-AAAAAA title wasn’t always smooth. Significant bumps were caused by COVID-19, which prompted the closing of Georgia’s public schools a few days after Evans became the Lady Mustangs’ coach.
“There were all these unknowns and procedures that we had to do,” Evans said. “All we could do at first was lift (weights) in June and I thought, ‘Are we ever going to get to throw?’”
South Effingham overcame every obstacle, however.
“I’m getting a little tongue tied tonight because I’m just super proud of the girls,” Evans said. “I’m super proud of how far they’ve come and I’m proud of them for being coachable. That’s the biggest thing you can ask as a coach — are the kids coachable?”
The Lady Mustangs, seeded second, broke a 1-1 tie in the title game by scoring two runs in the fifth frame. They added four more in the sixth, which featured two defensive miscues.
“We are really good at highlighting errors,” Evans said.
Caraline Stone, who received the game ball, powered South Effingham with three hits and three RBI. Kaley Stone added two hits and scored a run.
Alex Brown and Whitney Thompson scored two runs apiece for the Lady Mustangs.
Winning pitcher Bailey Kendziorski allowed six hits while going the distance. She didn’t issue a free pass.
Rylee Mills and Enna Lackey paced the Lady Rebels with two hits each. Mills had her team’s lone RBI.
Effingham County (17-5), which dropped a 5-1 winner’s bracket decision to the Lady Mustangs at Rebel Field on Wednesday, advanced to the title game by edging Glynn Academy 3-2 in eight innings earlier Thursday. The decisive blow was a walk-off homer Caleigh Eubanks. It was her first circuit clout.
Eubanks’ blast set off a joyous celebration in the infield but the emotion didn’t carry over against the Lady Mustangs. Effingham County committed errors on the first two plays of the opening inning. Pitcher Julia Carter, however, managed to get out of the jam without additional damage.
South Effingham got on the scoreboard in the third inning when Avery Roddenberry socked an RBI single with Brown aboard. Mills belted her run-scoring hit in the bottom of the frame.
The Lady Mustangs opened the tournament Tuesday with a 5-1 win over Richmond Hill at Rebel Field. The Lady Mustangs didn’t take the lead until late in the contest.
Both teams plated a run in the first frame and the game remained deadlocked until Sarah Messex, who led off the fifth by getting plunked, advanced around the bases after a series of defensive lapses, giving her team a 2-1 edge.
Effingham County opened the tournament with a 10-2 rout of Glynn Academy, which finished third in the region ahead of Richmond Hill.
South Effingham and Effingham County will start best-of-three Class AAAAAA playoff series at home Monday versus Heritage-Conyers and Grovetown, respectively. Third- and fourth-seeded Glynn Academy and Richmond Hill will travel to Lakeside-Evans and Evans, respectively.