By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — South Effingham softball coach Jessica Evans says there’s one thing she doesn’t have to teach — winning.
“A lot of these girls have won all their life, from middle school to here,” Evans said. “They play on winning travel teams. Sometimes when you’re coming into a new situation as a coach (winning) is a hard thing to teach. But not these girls. Sometimes we can be a little overconfident, but I’d rather work from that end than the opposite end.”
Evans begins her second year with the Mustangs. The first one went pretty well. SEHS finished with a 28-4-1 record, won the Region 2-AAAAAA championship by unseating rival Effingham County and advanced to the quarterfinals of the state tournament before losing to top-ranked Buford two games to one.
Now the powerhouse middle school program is feeding Evans with another group hungry to win.
“I feel like we’ll be young, but we have just enough of the older girls here who can share the expectations,” Evans said.
And those expectations? Well, the Mustangs have t-shirts with the exact distance to Columbus — site of the Elite Eight state tournament. According to their calculations, the bus ride should be 237.2 miles.
“We’d like to build on last year and keep it going,” SEHS star sophomore pitcher Bailey Kendziorski said. “I think we can go farther this year.”
The journey begins Saturday when the Mustangs open the season at the Harlem Classic with games against Heritage (Conyers) and Greenbrier.
A big part of SEHS’ optimism is centered around the return of 5-foot-4 Kendziorski, who was the Pitcher of the Year in Region 2-AAAAAA and named first-team all-state (by the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association) as a freshman last season.
Blessed with impeccable control of an array of pitches, Kendziorski struck out 181 while issuing just 12 walks and posting an 0.79 earned run average during the regular season.
A year ago, the Mustangs allowed one run or less in 21 of 33 games.
“Bailey is a commander of the game,” Evans said. “She’s silent out here, but she plays an important role for us just with her presence.
“She doesn’t have to grab recognition by saying I’m your leader. She does it on the field. The leadership automatically comes to her because of what she does.”
Evans has to replace region Player of the Year Alex Brown, who earned a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, but talented freshman Kenzie Ergle has shown promise throughout the summer.
Starters Whitney Thompson, Chloe Turner and Mattie Turner are back to give the infield continuity. The outfield remained intact with Avery Roddenberry, Kaley Stone and Sarah Messex back.
Sophomore Jaden Burns is expected to take over at catcher.
Evans hopes freshman Izzy Wilkins can take some of the pitching load off Kendziorski.
“I’ll be honest, we’re excited about our future here,” Evans said. “Obviously, in everybody’s eyes, it’s, ‘Hey, how far can we go, beating old records?’ We know no one in the school has won a (team) state championship. That’s always on the docket, but my biggest thing for this team is to find that team chemistry.”
Thursday — Meet Your Mustangs Scrimmage, 6 p.m.
Saturday — at Harlem Fall Classic at Greenbrier
Aug. 11 — Wayne County, 6 p.m.
Aug. 13-14 — at Carrollton for Leadoff Slam
Aug. 19* — Effingham County, 6 p.m.
Aug. 26* — at Statesboro, 6 p.m. doubleheader
Aug. 28 — Coastal Day Bash, TBD
Aug. 31* — Brunswick, 6 p.m.
Sept. 2* — Glynn Academy, 6 p.m.
Sept 7* — at Bradwell Institute, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9* — at Richmond Hill, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14 — at Effingham County, 6 p.m.
Sept. 17-18 — at Lady Dog Invitational in Madison
Sept. 21* — Statesboro, 6 p.m.
Sept. 23* — at Brunswick, 6 p.m.
Sept. 28* — at Glynn Academy, 6 p.m.
Sept. 30* — Bradwell Institute, 6 p.m.
Oct. 5-6 — Region 2-AAAAAA tournament, site TBD
* — Region 2-AAAAAA game