By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — Would he like to be 3-0 right now? Sure. But first-year South Effingham softball coach Adam Newland looked at his team’s season-opening three non-region games with a bigger picture in mind.
And the bigger picture for the Mustangs (1-2) begins to unfold Thursday with a Region 2-AAAAAA doubleheader against Grovetown.
On the horizon is region champ Effingham County on Aug. 23.
“We wanted to play tough teams in the non-region to prepare us for region (games) and the playoffs,” Newland said. “We’re staying the course and working our plan. We feel like we’ll be ready when the time comes.”
Three games against 2021 region champions were just the pre-region test Newland ordered. South beat North Atlanta 12-9 and lost to Tattnall Square 9-8 in a tournament Aug. 6.
In their home opener Thursday, the Mustangs dropped a 2-1 game to Emanuel County Institute, which won 28 games and finished third in Class A Public last season.
All three games displayed SEHS’ resilience. The Mustangs scored six runs in the eighth inning to beat North Atlanta and staged a seven-run, seventh-inning rally against Tattnall Square before surrendering a run in the bottom of the inning to break the 8-8 deadlock.
Trailing by two entering the seventh against ECI, South scored a run and had the bases loaded with two out but fell 60 feet short of extending the contest.
The Mustangs had runners on second and third with no out in the fourth inning against ECI but failed to score.
“We had plenty of opportunities but we had tough luck,” Newland said. “We just have to cash in those opportunities. That’s part of the game.”
A couple of early mistakes hurt. A dropped tag during a double steal led to the ECI’s first run and an agonizing popout that fell between the pitcher, shortstop and third baseman fueled ECI’s second run.
But South’s three pitchers — Bailey Kendziorski, Haylee Johnson and Izzy Wilkins — swerved in and out of danger by stranding 11 runners to keep the game close.
Outfielders Hailey Roman and Peighton Capwell provided key defensive plays by throwing out runners at the plate in the sixth and seventh innings.
Sarah Messex cut ECI’s lead in half with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.
But ECI pitcher Charla Clifton, who took a two-hitter into the seventh, held on. Clifton, one of the top high school pitchers in the state, played travel ball for Atlanta Premier Gold and pitched in the GACA All-Star Game.
“These are the types of teams we want to face in non-region (play) and these are the arms we want to see in the circle,” Newland said. “Obviously, it says a lot about (the Mustangs) to keep fighting. Adversity is part of the game, it’s part of life in general, so if you can stick it out and keep going, that will serve you well down the road.”