In all his years of playing, coaching and watching baseball, Tony Kirkland had never seen anything quite like Friday night’s game.
His South Effingham Mustangs were down by 10 runs by the end of the first inning. When the game ended — nearly four hours later — they had a 20-15 victory over Richmond Hill.
“It was the best comeback I’ve ever witnessed,” Kirkland said after his team improved to 14-4 overall and 6-0 in Region 3-AAA with its seventh straight win. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team give up a 10-spot in the first and win a ball game.
“This isn’t the first time with this group,” he said, noting comeback efforts against Calvary and Blessed Trinity. “They just believe in themselves, and I believe in them, too.”
After that first inning, Kirkland issued a challenge to his team. He was either going to take out his starters and let his younger backups play the rest of the way, or the Mustangs were going to have the greatest comeback ever.
Jace Daley provided a clutch tying double in the top of the seventh, Tyler Dodd provided a game-saving play at shortstop in the bottom of the seventh and the Mustangs’ seniors stepped up in the eighth.
After John Roberts was intentionally walked, Chris Zittrouer drilled a three-run homer to put South Effingham in front for the first time.
“It was a lot more eventful than it should have been,” Kirkland said. “We were down 10-0 before we got an out. But Richmond Hill played very well. They hit the ball all over the place.”
The Wildcats (9-8, 0-5) finished with 18 hits and the Mustangs made only one error.
South Effingham cut the gap to 10-5 in the second and trimmed it further to 10-7 before the Wildcats pushed across four more runs to widen the lead to 14-7.
Starter Matt Zettler failed to make it out of the first inning, but relievers Stephen Vaughn and Ian Byrd held the Wildcats at bay.
“Vaughn did a great job,” Kirkland said, “and Byrd held them right there. That got us right back in the ball game.”
With the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, Daley capped the rally from 10 runs down, lining a two-strike pitch down the right field line for a two-run double to tie the game at 15-15. The Mustangs entered the frame down 15-10.
In the bottom of the inning, with runners on first and third and two outs, Dodd ran down a shot up the middle and threw to first baseman Travis Wooten, who made the stretch for the catch and the final out of the inning.
Zittrouer had three hits for the Mustangs, who had 16 as a team, and Marcus Zeigler added two hits. Colby May hit his fourth homer, a solo shot in the sixth.
“Our kids really never lost hope,” Kirkland said.
South Effingham hosts Benedictine Tuesday at 5:45 p.m.