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Resilient Mustangs wrest series from Rebels
Nick Milbrandt
Effingham County’s Timmy Burnsed (4) scurries back to first base as South Effingham’s Nick Milbrandt awaits a pickoff throw in Friday’s game at The Corral. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

GUYTON — Inexperience has a friend in the South Effingham dugout. Resiliency is its name.

During the finale of their season-opening, three-game series against rival Effingham County on Friday, the Mustangs (2-1) rallied for four eighth-inning runs to beat the Rebels (1-2) in a 10-9 thriller. 

The series-clinching blow at The Corral was struck by senior Nick Milbrandt, whose solid single against Merritt Evans plated juniors Nick Duke and Shane Chapman with the tying and winning runs, respectively.

The Mustangs, a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores, overcame a three-run gap earlier in the contest.

“Maybe it’s the youth and inexperience. They don’t know when they are supposed to stop playing hard,” a relieved Mustangs head coach Todd Eubanks joked after the third game.

Freshman Maddox Shiell was especially strong, pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the middle of the contest. Kaleb Johnson, another ninth grader, got the win after hurling the final two frames. 

“You can’t say enough about the young kids, both those young freshman pitchers coming in here tonight,” Eubanks said. 

Johnson inherited a 6-6 in the seventh inning. He retired the side in order and got the first two batters out in the eighth frame before running into trouble.

After Justin Wilcox drew a walk and Zack Garcia singled, Dustin Johnson belted a homer to center field, sparking a wild celebration in the Rebels’ dugout.

Undaunted, Kaleb Johnson played a factor in the Mustangs’ game-winning rally. After getting hit by a pitch by Zack Garcia, he scored the first run of the uprising on a hard grounder that was misplayed in the infield. He had advanced to second on a free pass drawn by Phillip Cooper.

Later in the frame, Chrys Hawkins took the mound and walked consecutive batters Zack Zorbo and Jacob Tuten, setting up a bases-loaded situation for Milbrandt. Cooper scored on Hawkins’ first free pass.

Facing Evans, credited with the win in the Rebels 6-1 decision in the Feb. 10 series opener in Guyton, Milbrandt laced a liner into the outfield, causing his teammates and South Effingham fans to jump for joy. The ecstatic Mustangs, who won the middle game of the series 6-4 at Rebel Field, piled on top of him at second base.

“It was a great series,” Eubanks said. “There was great crowd support on both sides. The enthusiasm was there and it is definitely something to build on.

“Our young kids here — it will most definitely give them a chance to understand what competing at a high level — a high school level — is all about.”

The Mustangs, set to host Glynn Academy on Tuesday, finished with 10 hits, getting two each from Kaleb Johnson, Duke and Milbrandt. Kaleb Johnson led the team with three runs. Cooper and Chapman scored twice.

Effingham County collected 11 hits, including three from Dustin Johnson. Austin Mealor and Garcia had two hits each.

Eight players scored for the Rebels, with Tucker Wilson tallying two runs.