By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
The softball teams of South Effingham and Effingham County seemed to live in a parallel universe this season.
Two first-year coaches battled to the final inning of the final Region 2-AAAAAA game to decide a region title. Both teams swept through super regionals for a chance to play in Columbus and both left with exciting experiences before leaving on the third day of the eight-team Class AAAAAA double-elimination state tournament.
“It was one of the most rewarding (seasons) I’ve been a part of,” ECHS coach Brad Thompson said.
The Rebels finished the season 27-7. The Mustangs, who won the Region 2 championship by defeating ECHS 1-0 in the region finale, ended 26-7.
Both local teams couldn’t have drawn tougher teams in Columbus. The Rebels opened with top-ranked Pope and stayed even through four innings before the Greyhounds ran away with an 8-0 victory.
Undeterred, ECHS fought back from a three-run deficit the next day against Houston County before Emma Reynolds’ run-scoring single in the 12th inning provided a wild 7-6 victory.
Rylee Mills hit a game-tying home run and, after the Bears went back in front, Morgan Coleman had a clutch, two-out RBI hit to knot the game at 6-6.
Mills threw 185 pitches while getting the complete-game victory.
On the third day, freshman Ansleigh Giordano pitched well, but the Rebels were eliminated by two-time defending Lassiter, 6-0.
“To my knowledge, we picked up the first win they’ve ever had in Columbus,” Thompson said. “It’s an experience they’ll always remember. Just playing that last day in the stadium (albeit the loss to Lassiter) was a thrill.”
SEHS might have etched its name as a team to watch next season. The Mustangs will have seven starters back, including junior Bailey Kendziorski, one of the top pitchers in the state.
Emma Darrow, a junior second baseman, went 4-for-8 with at least one hit in all three state tournament games and finished the season on a 17-game hitting streak to up her batting average to .442.
Third baseman Whitney Thompson (.425 batting average), shortstop Kenzie Ergle (.365, 14 extra-base hits) and catcher Jaden Burns (.330) will also return.
Kendziorski pitched a no-hitter against Veterans in the Mustangs’ 4-0 victory on Day 2 in Columbus. Kendziorski struck out eight and walked only one while registering her third no-hitter of the season.
SEHS lost its opening game to Lassiter 3-2 on a walk-off single by Brooke Sims in the bottom of the seventh. The Mustangs scored twice in the first inning to take a 2-1 lead. Lassiter tied the game in the fourth before the dramatic hit in the seventh.
Against Veterans, Izzy Wilkins, just a sophomore, hit a home run and drove in all four runs.
On the third day, Haylee Johnson started on the mound against River Ridge. SEHS had six hits but failed to score for only the second time this season in the 5-0 loss.
Now both schools look to the future. With a strong talent pool in the area middle schools, ECHS’ rebuilding efforts shouldn’t take long. The Rebels already have a strong centerpiece on the left side of the infield — junior third baseman Reynolds and sophomore shortstop Olivia Morgan.
“Our administration and the community gave us great support and the girls responded,” Thompson said. “It was a great first year.”