By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — The baseball season comes full circle for Effingham County. The Rebels swept North Atlanta in a first-round, best-of-three Class AAAAAA tournament series to get a rematch with Pope High School in the second round.
The Sweet Sixteen series will start with a doubleheader Tuesday with the potential deciding game Wednesday.
“Pope is going to be Pope,” ECHS coach Shane Ramsey said. “We know they’re going to be good, but I like how we’re playing right now.”
The Rebels (16-16) dropped two games to the Region 6 champion Greyhounds during the first week of the regular season. But ECHS recovered, sweeping Richmond Hill along the way, and was in the running for the Region 2 title in the final week of the regular season.
The Rebels fell behind in both first-round state playoff games against North Atlanta on April 27 but stayed true to form and remained resilient. They used five walks and two hit batsmen (14 walks and four hit batsmen overall in the game) to score eight runs in the seventh inning and win the opener 13-10.
In the nightcap, ECHS had a two-out, three-run rally to tie the game in the sixth inning — the big hit a two-run single by Tyler Wells — before Griffin Howe’s run-scoring, seventh-inning single completed a 5-4 comeback victory.
“The scouting report (for North Atlanta) was to get to their bullpen,” Ramsey said. “I was proud of my guys. They fought and put us in this position (to play Pope again). We’re not the same team that we were at the beginning of the season.”
There have been heartaches along the way but, since a 2-9 start, the Rebels are 14-7.
Pope (25-7) is also playing its best baseball. The four-time state champion Greyhounds (most recently winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018) have won 17 of their last 18 games and avenged an early-season loss to Allatoona and won the run-differential tiebreaker to claim Region 6’s top seed.
Pope ended the regular season ranked fourth in Class AAAAAA by Score Atlanta.
“We know what to expect and we feel like playing (a tough) early-season schedule and our region has prepared us,” Ramsey said.
Pope won the first two meetings against ECHS 8-4 and 18-4, but Ramsey knows first-hand that early non-region games can be deceiving.
He was coaching at Heritage (Conyers) High in 2019 when the Patriots lost an early-season, non-region game to Effingham County, but rebounded to end the Rebels’ season later in the year in the state semifinals en route to a championship.
ECHS’ first-year coach says getting Ws at this point of the season is what matters.
“I like to say, this time of the year, numbers don’t matter. The alphabet does,” Ramsey said.