By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON -- South Effingham baseball coach Todd Eubanks said his team wasn’t quite focused Thursday during its Class AAAAAA first-round state playoff series with Heritage-Conyers.
That’s not to say he didn’t like the results.
The Mustangs topped the Patriots 7-3 and 15-1 to sweep the best-of-three series and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
On Wednesday, SEHS (24-8) will play host to Region 1’s No. 3 seed Lee County, which won its first round series against Lakeside-DeKalb in three games.
“People say survive and advance, but I don’t agree with that,” Eubanks said. “I think conquer and advance. You have to have that winners’ mentality.”
Eubanks is thinking big picture. The Mustangs didn’t have to be at their best to overwhelm Heritage (9-18) and win their first state playoff series since 2016.
But for a long run at state, teams usually have to cut down on miscues and missed opportunities. In the opener, South was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position during the first five innings when the game was close. In the nightcap, the Mustangs had two runners picked off bases and had another baserunner thrown out at the plate on a short wild pitch.
But Heritage didn’t capitalize and the Region 2 champs weren’t threatened.
In the opener, SEHS starting pitcher Nick Milbrandt took a shutout into the seventh inning before tiring on the 86-degree day.
Milbrandt upped his record to 10-1 and tied the school single season record for wins with current Mustangs pitching coach Jesse Osborne.
Sophomore right-hander Kaleb Johnson surrendered a run in the first inning of the second game but allowed just three singles the rest of the way while striking out seven and walking only one in a game stopped after six innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
“Tiny and KJ, they’re always going to give us a chance to win,” Eubanks said.
So will 22 runs in a doubleheader. SEHS had multiple offensive heroes. Hunter Walthour reached base during each of his seven at bats and scored five times. Aaron Benton drove in five runs in the doubleheader.
Maddox Shiell, who has seen more playing time lately, went 2-for-3 in both games. Zack Wert, getting a start in the second game, had three hits, including two doubles, and drove in three runs.
Phillip Cooper, who missed Game 3 against Richmond Hill, had three hits in seven at bats and scored three runs during the doubleheader.
“We’re doing some things well. I was just disappointed we weren’t more focused,” Eubanks said. “We’re use to playing Monday, Wednesday, Friday and to be playing at 3:30 on a Thursday was a little different. But we did enough to win and played a little better in the second game.”
Lee County, South’s next opponent, should be a tougher test after knocking off 25-win Lakeside, DeKalb in the first round. The Trojans have a 12-21 record, but 10 of the losses were by one or two runs.
Smith Pinson, who is committed to Kennesaw State University, is the team’s best player. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound right-hander is 6-1 with a 1.44 earned run average and hits .312.