By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD —Twenty-one wins and an Elite Eight appearance in the Class AAAAAA state tournament accentuated a season worthy of high praise for the Effingham County softball team a year ago.
The Rebels even held a seventh-inning lead against state runner-up Pope in the playoffs.
But looking back, there was one blemish dulling the shine — three losses in four games to neighboring rival South Effingham, which unseated the Rebels as Region 2-AAAAAA champions.
“We make goals at the beginning of the season and beating South will always be big and we didn’t do that, but we still had a great season,” ECHS coach Jane Trzaska said. “Getting to the Elite Eight was huge. We’ll have things to strive for again this year.”
The season begins Saturday with games against Apalachee and Pierce County at a round-robin tournament at Tattnall County High School.
It’s Trzaska’s third year as the Rebels coach and the former Armstrong State star pitcher will rely on a familiar smiling face on the mound — junior Rylee Mills — to hold down opponents.
During her first two years, Mills shared the pitching duties with Julia Carter to give ECHS a strong one-two punch. But Carter graduated, leaving Mills potentially with double duty. Mills was a first-team all-region performer last season.
“Her teammates call her “Smiley Rylee” because she’s always smiling, but when she’s out there (pitching), she turns a different switch,” Trzaska said. “It seems every year, she’s gotten better and we’ll definitely be counting on her this year.”
Offensively, ECHS lost its most productive hitter, Addie Reynolds, who signed with USC Beaufort. But Trzaska is hoping six returning starters, bolstered by a strong freshmen class, can pick up the slack.
Senior Jennie Edinger, who played third base last season, is expected to replace Reynolds as catcher.
The outfield of Morgan Coleman, Enna Lackey and Shelby Aiken is back intact. Each member of the trio earned all-region honors last year.
Junior Caleigh Eubanks is an experienced anchor in the infield. Lauryn Wilson saw time at first base. Nebraska Ellison will also contribute in the infield.
Addie’s sister, Emma Reynolds, will be a sophomore to watch. Trzaska has high hopes for freshmen Megan Coleman (Morgan’s sister) and Olivia Morgan.
Trzaska said she is excited to work with a new addition to her coaching staff, Harlee Rewis, who played softball at Georgia Southern University.
“There are some new coaches in our region and of course South (Effingham) has a strong team coming back so it’s another challenging year,” Trzaska said. “It’ll be exciting. The goal of every team is to get to Columbus (site of the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament). Once you’re there, you revamp them.”
Saturday — at Tattnall County Tournament, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Aug. 11 — Islands, 6 p.m.
Aug. 17* — at Glynn Academy, 6 p.m.
Aug. 19* — at South Effingham, 6 p.m.
Aug. 23 — at Toombs County, 6 p.m.
Aug. 24* — Brunswick, 6 p.m.
Aug. 26* — Bradwell Institute, 6 p.m.
Aug. 28 —Greenbrier, 2 p.m.
Aug. 31* — at Richmond Hill, 6 p.m.
Sept 7* — Statesboro, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 9* — Glynn Academy, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14* — South Effingham, 6 p.m.
Sept. 16* — at Brunswick, 6 p.m.
Sept. 20 — at Southeast Bulloch, 5 p.m.
Sept. 21* — at Bradwell Institute, 6 p.m.
Sept. 23* — Richmond Hill, 6 p.m.
Sept. 25 — at Evans, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Sept. 27 — at Tattnall County, 6 p.m.
Sept. 29 — West Laurens, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 20* — at Statesboro, 6 p.m.
Oct. 5-6 — Region 2-AAAAAA tournament, site TBD
* — Region 2-AAAAAA game