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Blue Devils end Mustangs run
Columbus sweeps South Effingham, advances to Class AAA state title series
South Effingham shortstop Colby May takes a seat on third base and talks with Columbus third baseman Tyler Baughman during a pitching change in the top of the sixth inning of Game 2. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Zettler foils squeeze

Matt Zettler foils a squeeze attempt.

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Mustangs break it down

The Mustangs break it down for the last time in the 2007 season.

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One by one, the South Effingham Mustang seniors stood up, got a bear hug from coach Tony Kirkland and walked away from the team gathered down the left field line.

The Mustangs baseball team had finally run out of magic in the postseason, falling 5-3 and 6-1 to Columbus in the Class AAA state semifinals Monday night before an overflow crowd at The Corral.

The Blue Devils (28-7) matched the clutch pitching and hitting that had carried the Mustangs through the first three rounds and are headed to a state championship appearance for the fifth straight year.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it,” Blue Devils coach Bobby Howard said. “We had a few key hits late. But our pitchers pitched well.”

The Mustangs (21-12) made five errors in the first game and had only 11 hits for the series.

“I knew we were going to have to be flawless and we weren’t, and that’s a testament to them,” South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland said. “Their style of play puts a lot of pressure on you. It forces you to execute and to be on your toes. We knew what we had to have coming into this one, and we fell short.”

It was the third time in the last four years for the Mustangs to reach the semifinals, and the third time in four years to have their season end there. Columbus also beat the Mustangs in the semifinals two years ago.

Zach Bush broke open a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning of Game 1 with a two-run, two-out homer off Jesse Osborne. The Blue Devils made it 5-1 on RBI singles from University of Alabama signee Chase Weems and Zach Laughlin.

The Mustangs, held in check most of the game by starter Jacob Fox, rallied in the sixth. Fox retired eight straight batters after Paul Cheeks’ RBI double in the third, and Cheeks started the uprising with a single. Colby May walked and John Roberts singled, loading the bases with one out. Keifer Youmans brought in a run with a sacrifice fly.

A walk to Waylon Pickard loaded the bases again, and Chris Zittrouer was hit by a pitch to force in another run. But Laughlin, on in relief, got Matt Tufts to ground out to end the inning.

South Effingham threatened in the bottom of the seventh, putting runners on first and second with two out. Laughlin got Roberts swinging to end the game.

Though the Mustangs allowed only one earned run, they made five errors. They picked off one Blue Devil runner and turned a failed squeeze attempt into a double play to get out of the sixth.

“We had been tearing it up at the plate and had played really, really solid defense,” Kirkland said. “And neither one of those came into play tonight.

“Ultimately, we’re better than what we did tonight.”

Fox went 5 1/3 innings, giving up four hits and striking out three. Laughlin walked three, hit one and gave up two hits, but only allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings.

“It would have long been over for us without Jacob pitching as well as he has,” Howard said.

Osborne surrendered five runs on seven hits and two walks in five innings while striking out six. Matt Zettler threw two innings of one-hit ball in relief.

The Mustangs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first in the nightcap without the benefit of a hit. Patrick Styblo waked, moved to second and third on two wild pitches and eventually scored on a sac fly.

Columbus tied the game moments after leadoff man Adrain Thomas was nearly doubled off first base to end the inning. Instead, he stole second and scored on Dan Beck’s run-scoring single to right off Ryan Cole.

Cole left the game after throwing two pitches in the top of the second, his season and high school career done because of his right elbow. Zach Anderson was summoned in relief and got out of the inning, but couldn’t escape the bottom of the third.

After a pair of two-out walks loaded the bases, Bush snapped the tie with a two-run single to left.

Meanwhile, Taylor held the Mustangs in check, allowing only Styblo’s infield single. Taylor walked three and hit a batter, but didn’t give up a base hit to the outfield until Matt Tufts’ single to center in the fifth.

“He started out shaky, but he did a great job,” Howard said. “He wasn’t giving into them.”

Thomas’ run-scoring groundout made it 4-1 in the fifth. The Mustangs posed their best threat of the game in the top of the sixth, loading the bases on singles from May, Youmans and Pickard. But Laughlin got Zittrouer swinging at a 3-2 breaking ball to end the inning.

“The game was on the line at that point,” Howard said.

The Blue Devils had stranded 10 runners through the first five innings, nine in scoring position, before putting the game and the series out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. Brubaker’s two-out double to left brought in a run, and Will Howard followed with a run-scoring single to right.

“We had chances to blow it open,” Coach Howard said. “I was disappointed in our approaches at the plate.”

Yet Howard and his Blue Devils will have a chance at a third state title in four years. They will host Dunwoody beginning Friday in a best-of-three series after the Wildcats beat Carrollton 14-5 to take their series 2-1.

“We’ve been blessed,” he said. “We’ve got good players, but more than that, we’ve got good people. That’s made it easier.”

The veteran coach was impressed by the Mustangs and likes their chances in the future.

“They’ve got a great ballclub,” he said. “They are young, and they play hard. A couple of hits here and there, and they’re moving on.”

Notes: May was selected to the Georgia Dugout Club’s Team Georgia, composed of the top 20 juniors and graduating seniors in the state, to take part in the Sunbelt Classic Baseball Series.