There won’t be any surprises for the South Effingham Lady Mustangs softball team this weekend.
For the fifth year in a row, the Lady Mustangs have reached the Elite Eight and will begin their quest for a Class AAA state fast-pitch championship. Of the 17 players on the roster for the weekend, 13 have made previous trips to the Elite Eight.
“This is something we work for every year,” coach Donnie Ussery said. “We’re no strangers to Columbus. We won’t be overwhelmed by the level of competition. That’s the great thing about this team. We know what to expect.”
Ussery front-loaded his schedule this year, putting his team up against tough squads and in tough tournaments. He also made sure to schedule Oconee County, the three-time defending state champs, on the schedule.
The top-ranked Lady Warriors (32-3) beat South Effingham 4-3 on Sept. 8. Playing them gave the Lady Mustangs a chance to see what the Lady Warriors’ tendencies were at the plate and in the circle.
“We know the last three years Oconee is the team to beat,” Ussery said. “Getting to see them and play them is important. We know they are going to be the team to beat.”
But the Lady Mustangs coach also likes the way his team has finished the season. The Lady Mustangs were 1-6 but won 24 of their last 36 games and are 25-11-1 going into the tournament. They won 11 straight games before falling to Northside-Columbus in the state sectionals last weekend.
“I’m really happy with the way we’re playing,” Ussery said. “Last year, we came out of the gate on fire. This year, we started a little slower and we struggled against good pitching and good teams. We are peaking at the right time. The girls have confidence.”
South Effingham and Oconee play today at noon, with the winner facing the winner of the Sandy Creek-Northside game at 4 p.m.
The keys to advancing are simple, according to Ussery.
“No. 1, you’ve got to have solid pitching and solid defense, without a doubt,” he said. “All eight teams are equal.”
That means when there is a chance, the Lady Mustangs have to take advantage and make another a team pay for a mistake, no matter how slight.
“And you’ve got to catch a break,” Ussery said. “If you get an opportunity, you’ve got to capitalize. You make one mistake in these games, that’s all it takes. Everybody is so equal, there is not one team that is that much better than the others.”
Class AAA Elite Eight
at Columbus Softball Complex
First round (all games Thursday at noon)
South Effingham vs. Oconee County
Northside-Columbus vs. Sandy Creek
Blessed Trinity vs. Hardaway
Harris County vs. Apalachee
Thursday at 4 p.m.
Winner’s bracket final
Friday at 5 p.m.
Saturday at 11 a.m. (1 p.m. game if necessary)