By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON -- Something needed to wake up South Effingham’s softball offense Thursday night. It turned out to be the Mustangs defense.
Potential run-saving plays in the second and third innings kept SEHS in a tight struggle with rival Effingham County and in the fifth inning the Mustangs broke loose for seven runs and pulled away for a 9-1 victory in a contest stopped in the sixth inning because of the eight-run mercy rule.
“When you have momentum on defense, it can travel into offense,” SEHS coach Jessica Evans said. “It can knock the wind out of your opponent.”
A little breeze would have been welcomed on a steamy, hot evening when the heat index topped 100 before the 6 p.m. first pitch.
ECHS (1-4, 0-2 Region 2-AAAAAA) was already in hot water missing all-region pitcher Rylee Mills, who was out because of COVID protocol.
But the shorthanded Rebels had the better of play through 4 ½ innings. ECHS had out-hit the Mustangs 6-1, but a second-inning double play erased a runner at third. Then first-year starting right fielder Peighton Capwell made a diving catch to help strand a runner on second in the third inning.
In the sixth inning, left fielder Avery Roddenberry made a sliding catch along the left-field line with two more Rebels on base.
“I thought we started well. We just didn’t get the runners in,” said ECHS coach Jane Trzaska, whose squad left five runners in scoring position.
South (6-2, 1-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) didn’t have such a problem when finally breaking through against freshman pitcher Ava Wingate, who allowed only two baserunners through four innings.
In the fifth inning, Kenzie Ergle’s fielder’s choice brought in the Mustangs’ second and third runs to provide a 3-1 lead.
Roddenberry and Whitney Thompson followed with singles to make it 4-1 and Chloe Turner clanged one of the trucks parked beyond the center-field fence for a three-run homer and suddenly SEHS was gone.
“From the beginning of our at bats, it looked like we were defending and not attacking,” Evans said. “We had to change our mindset. They had six hits and we had one and I said to them, “Girls, what are we doing?”
“We started laying off some pitches and focused on hitting balls in our zone. It turned things around.”
Ten of the last 13 Mustangs reached base. Valerie Bailey and Jaden Burns had two hits apiece to pace the late-arriving, nine-hit attack.
Emily Timms had two hits and drove in the lone run for the Rebels.
Bailey Kendziorski went five innings, striking out three and walking none, to pick up the win.