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SEHS sweeps ECHS, earns a spot in the state tournament
Q King
Effingham County center fielder Q King makes a sensational over-the-shoulder catch to rob South Effingham's Nick Cooper of extra bases in the second inning Friday night at ECHS. The Mustangs won 9-0 to sweep the three-game series. (Mark Lastinger for the Effingham Herald.)

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald


SPRINGFIELD – Three baseball wins never looked bigger for South Effingham this season and the flip side summed up Effingham County’s spring of frustrations.

South squeaked out an eighth-inning, 3-2 thriller over the Rebels on Monday (April 8) before rolling the rest of the week, 11-1 and 9-0 last Wednesday and Friday, to sweep the neighborhood rivalry and clinch a spot in the upcoming Class 6A state tournament.

“We knew it was in us,” SEHS coach Jesse Osborne said. “This whole year has been a battle. Nothing up to this point has been easy for this group. We’ve dropped a couple of games along the way, but this was huge for us from a mental standpoint. It’s a confidence builder at the right time.

“We’re going to ride this as long as we can. I think if this group gets hot, anything can happen. There’s a different feeling right now.”

South (16-11, 8-7 Region 2-6A) has a three-game series remaining with Grovetown and has an outside chance of claiming third place in the region with a sweep and an Evans sweep over Glynn Academy.

The No. 4 seed in the region will travel to Region 3’s undefeated champion Woodward Academy on April 25 to begin a best-of-three series.

A week ago, the Mustangs’ prospects of being competitive at state seemed to be sinking. SEHS lost two of three games to Region 2’s top three – Evans, Brunswick and Glynn Academy – and barely slipped by 5-15 Lakeside with two one-run victories.

South lost its last two games against Glynn, 6-1 and 8-1.

“The Glynn series didn’t work out like we wanted, but the kids were out there (getting extra practice), 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, working some things out,” Osborne said. “I think we’re on the other side of that now.”

Five batters into the opener with Effingham County, the Mustangs had a 2-0 lead after Cohen Perry’s two-run single. SEHS had opportunities to stretch the lead, but left 11 on base.

A key play came in the fourth inning. The Mustangs had the bases loaded with one out. Dru Futch hit a screaming liner down the third-base line. Third baseman Caden Kessler made a diving catch and fell on third for a spectacular inning-ending double play.

Peyton Kirby
Effingham County's Kyle Thomas (No. 14) dives back to first base safely as South Effingham first baseman Peyton Kirby (No. 42) awaits the throw Friday night. The Mustangs won 9-0. (Mark Lastinger for the Effingham Herald.)
In the fifth inning, the Rebels tied the game on Q King’s two-run home run.

ECHS had a chance to win in the seventh, but couldn’t get a timely two-out hit with the bases loaded.

In the eighth, the Mustangs parlayed a walk, a single, a wild pitch and an error to plate the game winner.

Lance Cantaline pitched seven innings of four-hit ball to earn the win and his older brother Ty Cantaline threw a scoreless eighth to get the save.

“We battled hard that night and got out of jams, but you have to give it to Jesse and his club,” ECHS coach Eric McCombie said. “When they smelled blood, they put a dagger in us.”

South used four walks to fuel a six-run fourth inning in an 11-1 Game 2 win in a game stopped in the sixth inning by the mercy rule (10-run lead after five innings).

Three Rebel errors in the fourth inning of Game 3 led to five unearned runs in the Mustangs’ 9-0 shutout. Lefthander Hayden Pevey struck out 10 and allowed just three hits in six innings.

With a shot at the playoffs eliminated, McCombie used 19 players (six pitchers) in Game 3.

“I wanted to get a lot of guys an experience in this Effingham County-South Effingham rivalry. Hopefully, it benefits us in the future,” said McCombie who has just two seniors on his roster.

“Credit South Effingham. They were good this week and they wanted it more than us. I hope they do some damage in the playoffs.”

ECHS (7-20, 3-12 Region 2-6A) concludes its season this week with a three-game set against Lakeside.