By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County’s baseball team added its name to Region 2-AAAAAA contenders while quieting its doubters.
The Rebels sat alone atop the region standings to start the week after a surprising three-game sweep of Richmond Hill. Next up, Statesboro.
ECHS (8-9, 6-0 in region play) will begin its three-game set with the Blue Devils on Monday in Statesboro. Game 2 moves to Springfield on Wednesday with Friday’s finale to be played at Georgia Southern University’s J.I. Clements Stadium at 6 p.m.
Proceeds of the Friday game will go to the Simmons Strong Foundation in honor of the late Jim Simmons, who coached at both Effingham County and Statesboro.
“It’s going to be another big series for us,” Rebels coach Shane Ramsey said. “Beating Richmond Hill was big, but with the non-region schedule we played and the atmospheres we played in, we felt we could handle the moment.”
The Rebels didn’t just handle the moment. They thrived in a moment few saw coming. ECHS began the season losing nine of 11 non-region games -– albeit against elite teams that included Pope and Houston County.
The Rebels’ pitching staff entered the Richmond Hill series allowing more than seven runs a game.
But starters Caden Kessler, Griffin Howe and Chapman Bennett did not allow an earned run against the offensively potent Wildcats during their 5-0, 4-3 and 2-0 sweep.
“Caden set the tone in Game 1 and our great pitching continued and we got just enough runs across the plate,” Ramsey said. “We felt like we were the better team. No one gave us a chance, but we gave ourselves a chance.”
A year ago, Richmond Hill scored 11 runs in the first inning of the first game against ECHS and the Wildcats rolled to a three-game sweep.
This time, the Rebels built momentum in Game 1 when Kessler struck out the side in the top first inning. ECHS’ Tyler Wells led off the bottom of the first with a single. He stole second and came around to score when Trent Newberry’s bunt was mishandled on the next play.
The Wildcats elected to save heralded pitcher Leighton Finley for the March 22 makeup game against Glynn Academy, but their remaining pitching couldn’t match the Rebels’ hurlers the rest of the series.
Rain on Wednesday and Thursday led to a doubleheader on Friday in Springfield. Bennett coaxed a bases-loaded walk in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie in the first game.
Then, Bennett threw a 2-hit, complete-game gem in the nightcap.
Kessler scattered six hits while striking out eight without a walk in the first game of the series. Howe fanned seven while allowing two hits and three walks in Friday’s first game.
Richmond Hill entered the series with an 11-3 record and was ranked fifth in Class AAAAAA by Score Atlanta.
“When you looked into their eyes, they weren’t panicking,” Ramsey said. “The guys are buying into the big picture. We still have a long way to go, but I like a lot of what I’m seeing.”
Mustangs sweep Bradwell, extend win streak to five
South Effingham (14-4, 4-2) had to rally in the late innings in Game 3 against Bradwell Institute on Friday and in a non-region game against May River on Saturday.
The Mustangs extended their winning streak to five heading into a three-game Region 2-AAAAAA series with Brunswick.
“The kids faced some adversity, but they didn’t press the panic button,” SEHS coach Todd Eubanks said.
The Mustangs trailed Bradwell by four runs before scoring seven in the fifth inning and six more in the sixth for a 16-7 win on Friday. Zach Zorbo, Hunter Walthour and Maddox Shiell each had three hits to lead the 13-hit attack.
Shiell’s two-run single broke a 7-7 deadlock in the fifth inning. Zorbo had four runs batted in, including a two-run double in the fifth.
Dru Futch pitched four shutout innings with seven strikeouts in relief to register the victory.
SEHS won the first two games of the series 12-0 and 8-1.
Against May River, the Mustangs’ offense got going in the fifth and sixth innings. Down two, SEHS scored three in the fifth and five and the sixth to pull away 9-3.
Zach Wert pitched five innings to get the win and had three hits, including a three-run home run.
Walthour had four more hits and Zorbo had three as the Mustangs finished with 15 hits.
The three-game series with Brunswick began March 28 with the second game today (March 30) in Brunswick before returning to SEHS on Friday.