By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – It seemed like every week during the 2022 season, Effingham County’s football records were under scrutiny. And that’s a good problem.
The Rebels won seven games for the first time since 2018. They beat Glynn Academy in Brunswick for the first time since 2003.
The seven-game winning streak was ECHS’ best since 1995, when it last won a region championship.
Suddenly, locals were jogging their memories back to 1987, the year ECHS won multiple playoff games before playing for a state championship.
But the Rebels fell short in their quest for a region title this fall during a 30-27 loss in a showdown with Brunswick. The next week, the season ended in the first round of the state playoffs against Lee County.
But second-year head coach John Ford had the program moving forward. After playoff-less seasons of 2-8 and 3-7, the Rebels won six games in 2021 before going one better in 2022.
Eight ECHS players earned first-team all-region honors – quarterback Nathan Hayes, running back Jayden Evans, wide receiver/defensive back Keion Wallace, offensive lineman Desmond Montgomery, defensive lineman Keysean McCarr, inside linebacker Luke Roberts and defensive backs Ashley Thompson and Messiah Bacon.
Volleyball wins first region title since 2016
A long October Saturday in Brunswick proved productive for the ECHS volleyball team. The second-seeded Rebels fought their way out of the losers’ bracket to win the double-elimination region tournament championship for the first time since 2016.
While playing a competitive schedule, ECHS compiled a 26-16 record — the school’s most wins since 2008 — and advanced to the second round of the state tournament.
Middle blocker Cailin Pritchard finished her career with more than 1,000 kills — only the second player at the school to top the 1,000 mark.
Senior setter Ansleigh Amory and junior outside hitter Murphy Boyett were among the team leaders.
Boys basketball falls just short of a region title
ECHS heated up at midseason and won 15 of 16 games, but the big run was stopped in heart-breaking style. The Rebels lost the region championship game to Statesboro on a shot at the buzzer and dropped a first-round state matchup to Langston Hughes.
ECHS finished with an 18-9 record to equal its win total of the 2020-21 season. The Rebels were shooting for their first region championship since the 2012-13 season — JaKeenan Gant’s junior year.
Keion Wallace, who missed most of the Langston Hughes game with a sprained ankle, led the big midseason push.
Wallace, Timmy Brown, Jordan Goldwire, Ashley Thompson and Rashad Scott — all returning for the 2022-23 season — earned all-region honors.
Rebels softball advances to Columbus
ECHS didn’t win its region, but still arrived at its main destination, Columbus.
The Rebels (27-7) dropped its decisive region finale to South Effingham 1-0 on a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, but, as a No. 2 seed, won a four-team tournament at Alcovy to advance to the eight-team championship tourney in Columbus in coach Brad Thompson’s first season.
ECHS lost to top-ranked Pope and second-ranked Lassiter, but won a 12-inning, 7-6 thriller against Houston County.
Pitcher/first baseman Rylee Mills was named the region’s Player of the Year. Shelby Aiken, Ava Wingate and Olivia Morgan were named first-team all-region.
Mills and Aiken captured second-team all-state honors from the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.
Wrestlers Santiago, Bernacki place second at state
Wrestlers Mal Santiago and Mia Bernacki both finished second in their respective weight classes at state.
Santiago (56-3) fell short of a state championship in the 106-pound weight class against defending champion Rylan Ibold of Buford.
Bernacki (20-10) lost a 6-5 decision in the girls’ 197-pound weight class final.
Santiago won region and sectional titles to get to state. Bernacki defeated defending champ Amariah Marenco en route to her title match.