By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — A year ago, Effingham County’s baseball season took a 180-degree turn after the first inning against Richmond Hill.
The Rebels were coming off a three-game sweep of Bradwell Institute and had a 10-3 record.
Then disaster. Richmond Hill struck for 11 runs in the first inning en route to a 14-2 Game 1 win. The Wildcats won Game 2, 8-0, then completed the sweep with a 5-3 Game 3 victory.
At one point, ECHS lost 10 of 13 games and finished short of a state tournament berth.
“It changed the season,” Rebels coach Shane Ramsey said. “We can’t allow what happened to happen again.”
ECHS gets another shot at the Wildcats with a three-game Region 2-AAAAAA series this week. Game 1 is set today. Game 2 will be played in Richmond Hill on Wednesday with the finale on Friday in Springfield.
All games start at 6 p.m.
“This is a big series for us,” said Ramsey on Sunday night. “Richmond Hill, along with South Effingham, they’re the gold standard. To be the program we want to be, we have to beat them.”
Ramsey said a hard non-region schedule that included Class AAAAAAA toughie Etowah (13-1), and Class AAAAAA perennial powers Pope and Houston County should prepare ECHS for fifth-ranked Richmond Hill (10-3).
“There’s not going to be anything that Richmond Hill can throw at us that should be shocking,” Ramsey said. “That’s why we played that schedule to begin the season.”
The Rebels could have another advantage. Richmond Hill’s pitching might be stretched thin after having a rainout on March 18 against fourth-ranked Glynn Academy rescheduled for Tuesday.
ECHS (5-9, 3-0) is coming off a three-game sweep of Bradwell Institute, although the Rebels, after 10-3 and 21-1 victories, struggled to put away the Tigers during a 12-10 Game 3 victory.
ECHS won the previous 10 games against the Tigers by a combined score of 140-7.
“Do I wish we would put them away? Yes,” Ramsey said. “But numbers don’t matter. The alphabet does, and we got a ‘W’.”
By playing the third game of the series against Bradwell in wet conditions Friday, ECHS has its best three starters — Caden Kessler, Griffin Howe and Chapman Bennett — lined up for Richmond Hill.
“It was huge for us to get that (third game against Bradwell) in,” Ramsey said. “I’m of the mindset, if you drive to our place, we’re going to do everything we can to get the game in.”
But can the Rebels slow Richmond Hill?
“Richmond Hill is a good hitting ball club, so you have to keep the ball down,” Ramsey said. “If we can score some runs and pitch it well, we’ll have a chance.”