By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – First place will be on the line when the South Effingham and Effingham County baseball teams meet this week.
Then again, first is always at stake in this annual rivalry of county foes. Everyone wants to be No. 1, particularly in his own backyard.
“You say (all the region series) are all the same, but they’re not,” said Rebels coach Shane Ramsey, whose squad hosts Game 2 of the much-anticipated, three-game set Wednesday at 6 p.m.
The series will open (weather permitting) Monday at The Corral at 6 p.m. The series finale is slated Friday in Guyton.
“People are emotionally involved in this series, that’s the best way to say it,” Mustangs coach Todd Eubanks said. “It could be a playoff atmosphere. Both teams are in (contention for a region championship). Both are fighting and clawing for the same things.”
SEHS (18-6, 8-4 Region 2-AAAAAA) is the defending region champion, but ECHS has been the surprise of the region in 2022. The Rebels opened region play with seven straight region wins and sat atop the standings with a 9-3 region record entering the week.
South and Statesboro are one game back as the regular season begins its final two weeks.
Both the Mustangs and Rebels found ways to win last Friday’s series finales to snap two-game losing streaks. South held off Statesboro 3-1 behind the complete-game, 10-strikeout pitching performance of righthander Kaleb Johnson.
ECHS won a wild, come-from-behind 7-6 decision from Glynn Academy on a walk-off double by Mason Mock in the bottom of the seventh inning. Matthew Ford had three hits and drove in four runs.
Finally, the county was free to focus on this series – not that the players didn’t have it in the backs of their minds.
“We’ve been waiting on this since last year. We’re ready,” said Mock after his big hit against Glynn.
A year ago, South won all three games with ECHS, but it’s been an evenly matched series throughout the years. According to MaxPreps (which has been keeping high school baseball records since 2008), the Mustangs hold a 19-16 advantage. Nineteen of those 35 games have been decided by two runs or less.
During the last six years (since 2016), the teams have split 18 games (9-9) and each school has won three series.
“Honestly, I think (this series) is more intense than the state playoffs,” SEHS senior third baseman Noah Hollis said. “It’s really the most intense baseball I’ve played in my life and really the most fun. There’s definitely bragging rights. That’s probably why it’s so intense. Everyone talks a lot of crap. They really do. So it was good to sweep (the Rebels last season) and wave the brooms around.”
In this rural, baseball-fertile land, many of the players grew up playing baseball together in youth leagues.
ECHS senior catcher J.D. Coleman rattled off the names of Mustangs stars Hollis, Johnson, Carson Spendiff, Aaron Benton.
“Growing up, I’ve probably played with about half their team,” Coleman said. “There’s nothing better than competing against guys you’ve known your whole life…. This is always the biggest game, the biggest crowd of the year. The best thing we can do is put our best foot forward. We’re going to try our best.”