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Rebels' first-inning woes in Wildcats series costly
Mason Mealor
Rebels third baseman Mason Mealor tracks a pop fly during Thursday's game against Richmond Hill at Rebel Field. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SRINGFIELD — Not everything is going to go your way during the daily grind of baseball. Some say it’s good to forget and move on from bad plays, bad games, even bad series.

“I believe the opposite,” Effingham County baseball coach Chris Johnson said. “You don’t forget. You learn from it and prove yourself better.”

Johnson saw some good signs Friday despite a 5-3 loss which finished Richmond Hill’s three-game sweep of the Rebels.

After losing the first two games of the series 14-2 and 8-0, ECHS battled the Wildcats on even terms into the fifth inning of Game 3. The Rebels had the tying runners on base in the seventh before making the last out.

“I think we came back with a lot more focus (on Friday) and played the way we’ve been practicing and I think we left there feeling better about the direction we’re going,” Johnson said. “Richmond Hill has a talented group. They really swing the bats and have good pitching and defense. In Games 1 and 2, we played really tight. We kind of had a meeting of the minds (after Thursday’s 8-0 loss) and talked about things we weren’t doing to give ourselves a chance.”

Getting out of the first inning unscathed in all three games was the biggest problem. In the first inning of the series opener, ECHS surrendered 11 runs (10 unearned) after committing four errors. Richmond Hill hit only three balls out of the infield during the inning.

The Wildcats scored two in the first inning of the second game and three in the first inning of the third game.

But Johnson was encouraged that his squad fought back in Game 3 with three runs in the top of the second inning to tie the game. Two runs came on Timmy Burnsed’s home run.

And ECHS’ freshman pitcher Caden Kessler settled down and allowed just three hits the rest of the way.

“Caden never panicked and I was proud of him,” Johnson said. “He stepped up in a major way.”

Johnson said Game 1 starter Josh Bassett and Game 2 starter Taylor Rigdon didn’t pitch as badly as scores might suggest.

“If we had made plays, the games would have been a lot closer,” Johnson said.

ECHS (9-6, 3-3 Region 2-AAAAAA) now has to take its lessons into another grueling three-game series. Statesboro swept the Rebels in a three-game non-region series last season.

This year, the Blue Devils are off to a 10-5 start (5-1 in the region) after taking two of three games from Brunswick last week.

The opener of the series between ECHS and SHS is set Monday in Springfield. Game 2 is Wednesday in Statesboro with the finale returning to Springfield on Friday.

“Statesboro is a senior strong team,” Johnson said. “They remind me of our team (that went to the Final Four at state) two years ago. In this region, there are six teams that are state caliber so we have to keep our focus and give ourselves a chance.”