The South Effingham Mustangs baseball team made sure its final regular season game in Region 3-AAA South would be one to remember.
The Mustangs beat Liberty County 5-3 Friday night, giving them a perfect 10-0 mark in the subregion. It was the first time any South Effingham team had gone unbeaten in the subregion, and the Mustangs are headed to Region 3-AAAA next year.
“We’re leaving the region the best you could leave it,” South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland said. “They wanted to run the table.”
And the seniors got their sendoff from the region with the help of a couple of freshmen. Ian Byrd pitched two scoreless innings, and Jake Youmans came up with the game-winning hit, a bases-loaded triple in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“I commend those two freshmen tonight,” Kirkland said. “I pulled Youmans off the bench for a pinch-hitting situation and bringing Byrd in, I can’t say enough about him. Somehow or another, he gets the job done.”
The Mustangs trailed 3-2 when Colby May led off the fifth with a single to left. Chris Zittrouer singled with one out and Stephen Vaughn drew a walk to load the bases.
Youmans was called on to pinch-hit for Tyler Wooten and he lined a Joe Watkins pitch into right center field. Panthers center fielder Skyler Hoffer, but came up short, and the ball rolled away as all three Mustangs baserunners raced around to score.
The Panthers loaded the bases off Byrd with two walks and a fielder’s choice, but he got Watkins on a comebacker to end the threat.
May, who couldn’t close the deal against Effingham County in an 11-9 loss, was summoned to shut the door against Liberty County. The Panthers loaded the bases against the senior right-hander on two walks and Chris Arnold’s single, but May fanned Byron Calahan to end the game.
“It was a nice job by Coach (Danny) Daigle having enough confidence in a kid when he knows that just the other night he couldn’t get the job done,” Kirkland said of his pitching coach. “He wanted to prove he could. Daigle is a great sports psychologist. Daigle said, ‘I’ve got to get him back out there.’”
The Mustangs grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third off Panthers reliever Eddie Chipple. Jace Daley led off with a double,
Zach Anderson was hit by a pitch and May drew a walk to load the bases. John Roberts delivered a two-run double to right, but Chipple got out of further trouble with a fly out and back-to-back strikeouts.
The Panthers answered in the top of the fourth. Aaron Pringle’s two-out, two-run single to left preceded singles from Kendrick Jones and Watkins to load the bases. Pringle scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-2.
South Effingham starter Matt Zettler, knocked out of the Effingham game when he took a liner off the left leg, got a line drive off his left foot against Liberty. He went four innings, striking out three, walking five and giving up five hits.
The Mustangs played errorless ball and also turned two double plays, one to end the fifth and a 5-3-4 double play in the first. South Effingham finished with eight hits, with May going 2-for-2 and Roberts going 2-for-4. Daley went 2-for-3.
“We didn’t hit the ball all that poorly,” Kirkland said. “But we’ve got some work we’ve got to do.”
The Mustangs (18-5) will host Harlem today at 5:30 p.m. for the region championship and the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA state playoffs.