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Rebels dominate first-round playoff series
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By Donald Heath

Special for the Herald

SPRINGFIELD -- Effingham County displayed some mercy just to get to the softball mercy rule against visiting Lovejoy on Tuesday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.

Rebels coach Jane Trzaska had baserunners step off base twice while the Wildcats pitcher was on the mound (automatic outs) to expedite the third and final inning of a 20-0 win in the second game of a doubleheader.

ECHS won the first game 15-0, also in three innings, and captured the best-of-three series two games to none.

The Rebels, champions of Region 2, advanced to play host to the winner of Kell-Buford -- a best-of-three, first-round series which was scheduled to begin on Wednesday (Oct. 13).

The date and the time of the Sweet Sixteen best-of-three series haven’t been set yet. The winner will move on to Columbus and play in an eight-team, double-elimination tournament to determine the state champion.

“I feel good about where we are right now,” Trzaska said. “We’ve been playing well and carried that into the region tournament. I’ve been proud of the girls. They continue to be focused. One pitch, one out -- you can’t look too far down the line.”

Flying slightly under the radar, unranked ECHS (18-6) has won 13 of its last 14 games, including two nail-biters in the region tournament, to catapult from a No. 3 seed in the region tournament to the region’s No. 1 seed at state.

Four of the Rebels’ six losses were by one run, another was by two, and another (a 9-1 loss to South Effingham) came when star pitcher Rylee Mills was out because of COVID protocol.

ECHS made it a quick and sad day for Lovejoy. The first game lasted 56 minutes and the second game went 59. Mills and backup pitcher Ava Wingate pitched perfect games and the Rebels, who played everyone, scored in all six innings.

ECHS led 5-0 before Lovejoy recorded the first out in the first game. The Rebels sent 15 batters to the plate during an 11-run second inning of the nightcap.

Olivia Morgan had a double and triple and drove in three runs and Mills struck out eight of the nine batters she faced in the first game. Enna Lackey (triple, 3 RBIs) and Sarah Grace Hinely (double, triple, 2 RBIs) starred in the second game.

Two years ago, ECHS opened the state tournament against Lovejoy and defeated the Wildcats 17-0 and 22-0.

For Trzaska, blowouts aren’t expected but they are always welcomed.

“We were able to get all our girls in and work toward future years,” said Trzaska about Tuesday’s doubleheader. “You see some of the younger girls you brought up and they get some experience in a playoff game. That will be really important looking forward.”