The Effingham County Lady Rebels took advantage of nearly every opportunity they had at the plate and took advantage of Shelby Duff’s stellar start.
Duff, a senior pitcher, held the South Effingham Lady Mustangs to three hits, and the Lady Rebels rolled to a 7-0 win in the season opener for both county softball teams Tuesday night at The Corral.
The game was also the Region 2-AAAA opener for both teams, and the first for the Lady Mustangs in their new region. It was also their first loss in region play in nearly six years. “It means a lot,” Duff said of the win. “This is what we worked for.”
It also was Matt Huntley’s first as Lady Rebels head coach.
“It feels absolutely fantastic to come out on top,” he said. “I dreaded playing them our first game and our first region game.”
Huntley said Duff was nervous to start the game, and the senior hurler admitted as much.
“After the first inning, I settled down a little bit,” she said. “I had nerves the whole game.”
Added Huntley: “She performed her heart out.”
It was evident by her pitching performance, which included five strikeouts and no walks in a complete-game performance.
Duff retired the first eight South Effingham batters in order before giving up a single to center to Katie Durrence. Durrence was cut down trying to steal.
South Effingham starter Sally Faircloth wriggled out of a jam in the second inning, but the Lady Rebels finally began cashing in their chances in the third inning. After senior Kendall Usher beat out a ground ball, Kayla Calhoun drove her in with a sharp single to left field for the game’s first run.
It was the only run Faircloth allowed in her five innings of work. She gave up four hits and struck out one.
“Sally struggled in the scrimmage, but tonight she was great,” Lady Mustangs coach Donnie Ussery said.
With two on and two out in the sixth, Kayla English delivered a two-run single to center, staking Duff and the Lady Rebels to a 3-0 lead. They added the final runs in the seventh, sending eight batters to the plate.
Emily Waltz drilled a run-scoring double to right field, an error allowed two more runs to score and Kacee Page’s groundout brought in the final run after five consecutive batters had reached.
“That’s something we struggled with in the summer, taking advantage of runners in scoring position with less than two outs,” Huntley said. “We’ve worked on that in practice, and we’ve learned to hit the ball where it needs to go. They did an absolutely fantastic job of that.”
Said Ussery: “That was
the difference in the ballgame.”
Page, Smith, Calhoun and Waltz were each 2-for-4 as the Lady Rebels had 11 hits, and the Lady Mustangs committed four errors, much to Ussery’s chagrin.
“It shows us what we have to work on,” Ussery said. “We’ve got some girls in new spots. I liked the way we played at times. We’ve got to shore up our defense a little bit and make sure we make the routine plays we didn’t make tonight.”
Said Duff: “They are a very good team, but we had to work and capitalize on their mistakes.”
South Effingham had its best chance in the bottom of the seventh with runners on the corner and two outs. But shortstop Whitney Smith ranged far into the hole for Casey Johnson’s grounder and threw to first for the final out.
Duff gave up a two-out double to Katie Rietkovich in the fourth and had a runner on third with two outs in the sixth but got out of each situation.
“That’s her third time doing that against us,” Ussery said. “I bet we have left a stable full of Mustangs on the bases the last two years against her. That’s a tribute to a great pitcher. When runners get on, she knows how to pitch.”
Ussery blamed himself for the loss to the Lady Rebels. The Lady Mustangs have been hampered by weather that has cut short or cut out some practice and injuries.
“They came ready to play,” he said of the Lady Rebels. “I told the girls, I blame this one on me. I didn’t get them as ready as I should have.”