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Lady Rebels, Mustangs bite back against injury bug
Bailee Hildebrandt
Playing with an injured leg, Effingham County's Bailee Hildebrandt (25) works her way past South Effingham's Savannah Rodriguez (3) on Friday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
Jaxson Whiddon
Rebels goalkeeper Ethan Smart (31) deflects a shot by the Mustangs’ Jaxon Whiddon (12) on Friday. South Effingham scored off the carom. - photo by Photo by Birk Herrath

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Determining the Effingham County starters was least of the problems for Rebels girls soccer coach Wade Wright.

Eleven can be on the field at one time and Wright had that exact number healthy and ready to go Friday night against visiting rival South Effingham.

And the Rebels ironclad 11 held off the Mustangs 2-1 to clinch at least fourth place in Region 2-AAAAAA and a slot in the state playoffs.

“In my 30 years of coaching, I’ve never had a group of kids play harder, have faith in their teammates and be as gutsy,” said Wright, whose squad pulled off its third straight nail-biting win while playing short-handed because of concussions and various injuries.

Later Friday evening, the South Effingham boys produced a similar effort while missing nine players and defeated ECHS 4-2.

“It’s not unusual for teams to have their share of bumps and bruises at this time of the season but typically high school and college teams have 18 to 22 players,” Wright said. “We started the season off with 16 girls so our depth was already thin.”

Wright said he had a 12th player who was nursing shin splints possibly available Friday, but the return of Bailee Hildebrandt gave the Rebels just enough firepower.

In ECHS’ two previous games, Hildebrandt, who signed to play with Columbus State, did not play in the 2-1 shootout win against Statesboro and logged just 18 minutes against Brunswick (a 2-0 win) because of an ankle sprain and a partial Achilles tear.

But Hildebrandt returned to play the entire game against SEHS. She scored on a direct kick in the first half and set up the game-winner with a cross to sophomore Inessa Brackbill with 17:13 left to break the 1-1 deadlock.

Harley Murphy scored SEHS lone goal at 24:12 of the second half.

The victory gave the Rebels a 6-3 record in region play (8-3 overall) with games against region toughies Bradwell Institute, Richmond Hill and Glynn Academy remaining. But ECHS clinched all the tiebreakers with the other three region teams to place at least fourth in the standings.

For the South girls, a second straight strong effort went unrewarded. The Mustangs equaled the Rebels in shots on goal (10-10) and had a 3-2 edge in corner kicks.

In its previous game, SEHS scored first against powerhouse Richmond Hill before losing 5-2. The Mustangs lost their first meeting with the Wildcats 10-0.

“We have so much potential on this team, but we’re still trying to put it all together,” coach Amanda Johnson said.

In the boys game, SEHS, despite missing high-scoring Tyler Quick, produced a season-high four goals against a region opponent.

Jaxon Whiddon scored twice and Ashton Meador put the Mustangs ahead for good, 15 seconds after Daniel Castillo’s direct kick knotted the game 2-2 in the final minutes of the first half.

ECHS took a 1-0 lead early on Ethan Stewart’s goal. The Mustangs tied the game with an own goal.

“It was nice to get four goals because (recent shutouts) can get you mentally defeated,” said SEHS coach DaKota Paradice, whose team had been blanked in consecutive outings against Glynn Academy and Richmond Hill.

For the Rebels, an early injury to center back Kyle Hickman, left coach Austin Czachowski shuffling his lineup. It was ECHS’ eighth straight loss.