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Arms carry Mustangs into quarterfinals
PICT1388
The end of a long, victorious day - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Advice from the coach

John Roberts gets some words of wisdom from coach Tony Kirkland and turns them into a base hit.

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Final out

Patrick Styblo catches a line drive and doubles off the runner at second base to end the game and the series.

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South Effingham’s arms did some heavy lifting Tuesday night.

The Mustangs baseball team relied on stellar pitching for a sweep of its Class AAA second round playoff series with West Laurens at The Corral, winning the opener 9-1 and the nightcap 4-1.

Jesse Osborne took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in the first game, and three Mustangs pitchers combined to stifle the Raiders in the second game, with Patrick Styblo getting the win and turning in a game-saving play.

With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Brandon Clitt ripped a line drive to center field. Styblo, in center after his 4 1/3 innings on the mound, snared the shot and fired to second base, where Jay Thomas had strayed too far from the bag. Thomas was doubled up, and the Mustangs (19-9) escaped with the Game 2 victory and series sweep.

“I’m overjoyed,” Mustangs coach Tony Kirkland said after struggling to find just the words to capture his emotions after a second straight sweep.

Osborne needed only 86 pitches in his complete game victory, striking out seven, walking one and giving up four hits. He retired the first 11 batters he faced until third baseman Waylon Pickard couldn’t come up with Thomas’ bouncer halfway down the third-base line.

The Raiders had runners on first and third after that, but Osborne fanned Jake Hendley to end the inning. Osborne wasn’t aware he had a no-hitter after a scoreless and hitless fifth inning, even as a West Laurens player implored his teammates, “Do you want to get no-hitted in the playoffs?” before the top of the sixth.

One of the umpires asked Osborne just before the sixth inning about how nice it was to carry a no-hitter into the sixth of a state playoff game. Needless to say, adhering to strict baseball tradition, his teammates didn’t breathe a word of it in the dugout.

“You never talk about it,” he said.

With two out in the sixth, right after Thomas beat out a potential double play roller to short, Tyler Daniel cranked an RBI double into the gap in right-center. It ended the shutout and the no-hitter. The Raiders (19-10) loaded the bases in the seventh on three singles, but Osborne got Davey Hartley to fly out to left to end it.

His performance Tuesday came on the heels of a rocky start last Friday against Shaw in the first round.

“The fastball was the big thing,” Osborne said. “My curve was finally on. I finally got it back.”

Kirkland was happy to see Osborne’s fastball back to where it had been during the regular season.

“Last week, I had to ask our pitching coach, ‘was that a fastball?’” he said. “This week, there was no doubting it. He turned it loose.”

Osborne was staked to a 2-0 lead in the second. With two on and one out, Walt Anderson chopped a high-bouncing single to right over Cliatt’s head at first to bring in a run and another run scored later on a wild pitch.

South Effingham made it 3-0 when Colby May scored on a double play. The Mustangs broke it open in the home half of the sixth, scoring six times on six hits as seven straight batters reached base. Paul Cheeks and John Roberts each had RBI singles to center, Matt Tufts plated two runs with a single to center and Pickard doubled just inside the bag at first for another run. Chris Zittrouer’s groundout brought in the final run.

Styblo, pressed into duty when scheduled starter Ryan Cole developed tightness in his surgically-repaired pitching elbow, and relievers Matt Zettler and May kept the Raiders at bay in the finale. Styblo struck out five, walked one and gave up five hits and a run before giving way to Zettler.

Zettler, who had a win and a save in the first round, allowed five hits in 1 2/3 innings and May, called upon with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the seventh, got a strikeout and a double play to end the game and the series.

In the first round, the Raiders scored 28 runs in two games. South Effingham’s pitchers limited them to two runs on 14 hits in the sweep.

“Our pitchers did a great job,” Kirkland said.

However, the Mustangs coach was less enthralled about his hitters. South Effingham banged out 23 hits in the series, but the Mustangs left 12 runners on base in the second game, seven in scoring position.

“We hit the ball too well for two ballgames to not put up any more runs than we did,” he said, “except for that big inning in the first game. Ten hits, I expect more runs.”

Roberts hit a two-run homer off Cory Klassen in the first inning for a 2-0 lead. Daniel, 3-for-3 in the second game, cut the lead in half with a sharp single off May at shortstop to score Davey Hart.

Pickard brought in a run in the third with a fielder’s choice and Zack Anderson’s bloop double to right just over Cliatt’s head chased home Chris Zittrouer.

Zettler got out of one bases-loaded jam in the fifth, coaxing a double play from Jake Hendley, before loading the bases to start the seventh. May got Hendley looking before Cliatt hit his fateful line drive.

“I thought it was going to be a hit and it was going to score two runs,” May said.

May was still upset with himself for a pop up with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth.

“I just think I just missed my pitch,” he said.

Roberts was 5-for-7 in the doubleheader and drove in three runs. Pickard had three RBIs, and Anderson, Armstrong and Zittrouer all had three hits.

South Effingham will host Riverwood in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 5 p.m.