SPRINGFIELD — The fight to secure top billing in the Region 2-AAAAAA softball tournament couldn’t be closer.
The South Effingham Lady Mustangs (11-2, 4-1) nipped the Effingham County Lady Rebels (8-2, 5-1) 1-0 in thrilling fashion on Sept. 15, avenging a 4-2 setback a few days earlier and snapping their rivals’ 24-game region winning streak. Effingham County continues to hold a slim edge in the standings, however, because ties are broken by run differential. The Lady Rebels won the initial meeting 4-2, giving them a one-run edge for first place if both squads win the rest of their 2-AAAAAA games.
“That’s what is holding us,” Effingham County head coach Jane Trzaska said. “One-run losses are tough losses and they hurt, but they are going to come at times. It came tonight and it was unfortunate but they are a good team and we are a good team.
“It’s going to happen.”
South Effingham head coach Jessica Evans was ecstatic after her team’s win despite not getting a couple more runs that would have given the Lady Mustangs the inside track in the region race.
“It’s all right,” she said. “We got the ‘W’ so that changes the mentality.”
The Lady Mustangs were cruising along at 9-1 when they lost to the Lady Rebels.
“It was a tough loss because every game since the second week of the season we had been winning,” Evans said. “It was kind of like a heartbreaker because it was like they had forgotten how to lose. It was kind of like a shock of, ‘Oh, wow!’
“What made it even worse or put salt in the wound was that it was Effingham.”
South Effingham came out on top of the rematch because of freshman Bailey Kendziorski’s stellar pitching and excellent infield glovework. Third baseman Whitney Thompson was especially stout at third base, snagging a couple hot smashes, including a game-ender off the bat of Julia Carter that set off an infield celebration.
Kendziorski allowed one hit and issued no free passes while going the distance. She notched five strikeouts.
“She just shuts it down,” Evans said. “We can always count on her. She is one of those kids who is focused whether it be in the classroom or the weight room.
“This kid is pushing it to the limit. Sometimes I have to slow her down.”
Evans complimented catcher Caraline Stone’s cohesion with Kendziorski.
“Caraline works on getting her those (strike) calls that she deserves and, like I said, the battery between those two is solid, and that’s what you have to have,” Evans said. “They both trust each other, they are both ready and they talk to each other.”
Kendziorski allowed nine hits in the first contest against the Lady Rebels.
“To be honest, I just had to like relax. The more relaxed I got the better I would do,” Kendziorski said.
Kendziorski said she drew energy from her teammates, who were encouraged to cheer and celebrate good plays by their exhuberant coaching staff.
“If they see our momentum and our excitement, it kind of trickles down,” Evans said. “That’s why you have to do sometimes. That’s how you fire them up.”
South Effingham, limited to two hits by Rylee Mills, reached its spirit peak in the sixth inning when Thompson singled to center field to score Kaley Stone, who reached on an infield single. Stone advanced into scoring position on a bunt by Alex Brown.
“We did move runners when we needed to,” she said. “Our bunts were so much better tonight and that was something we were really trying to push tonight — the short game. We worked on that so we were bunting one through nine (in the batting order.”
The lone run ended up being enough to win because Kendziorski set the Lady Rebels down in order in the bottom of the sixth and seventh frames.