SAVANNAH — Having to get the last out — again — didn’t rattle Sally Faircloth at all.
Harlem’s Alexandra Johnson was ruled out for running into a batted ball after her bunt attempt in the top of the seventh inning with two outs. But the umpires eventually decided the ball was foul, and Johnson returned to the batter’s box.
Faircloth fired strike three past Johnson, striking out the side, and the South Effingham Lady Mustangs celebrated their fifth straight region championship with a 3-1 win Saturday at Paulson Softball Complex.
“She doesn’t get fazed,” Lady Mustangs coach Donnie Ussery said of Faircloth. “She is the coolest customer I’ve seen. She never gets rattled.”
With the win, the Lady Mustangs captured the top seed from Region 3-AAA and will enter this week’s state sectionals in Dublin. They will open with Westover on Friday at 4 p.m.
In the first game Saturday, Alison Kirkland struck out 15 batters and Katie Rietkovich led off with a homer in a 5-0 victory over Thomson. Joni Lynn was 3-for-3 and Sarah Parker drove in two runs as the Lady Mustangs broke the game open with three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
With Kirkland having pitched six innings to put South Effingham in the championship round, Ussery had no hesitation in turning to his junior hurler.
“I wanted Sally to taste this,” he said. “The last few years, we’ve had Alison in championship games. That’s one great thing we have. We have depth in pitching.”
Said Faircloth: “I was ready to pitch. I wasn’t nervous. I had confidence in my defense.”
A day after Harlem’s Brittany Newsome no-hit the Lady Mustangs in South Effingham’s 1-0 win, the Lady Mustangs had a much better luck at the plate against the Lady Bulldogs’ ace.
Crystal Sellers drew a two-out walk and after a wild pitch moved courtesy runner Megan Romano to second, Joni Lynn’s single to right broke the 1-1 tie as Romano raced home. Ciara Knowles followed with another RBI single, giving Faircloth and the Lady Mustangs a two-run cushion with only six outs left to get.
“I tell my team in practice, we don’t quit. I’ve seen so many good things happen to us this season with two outs,” Ussery said. “Two runs in this game is humongous.”
Faircloth gave up a sharp single to center from Kacee Camp to start the sixth, but retired the next six batters, the last four by strikeout.
Newsome also pitched in Harlem’s two wins Saturday, and Ussery said it was obvious the Lady Bulldogs’ ace was tiring but was still effective.
“She did an excellent job again today,” he said. “She kept us off balance.”
But even Newsome couldn’t prevent the Lady Mustangs from a fifth straight region title. Several former Lady Mustangs came by Friday night and Saturday to watch.
“That’s five region championships in a row. That’s unbelievable,” Ussery said. “It shows the consistency of not only the team but the program. I think it’s more about the girls who have come through. They expect this team to win.
The community expects us to win. We don’t play for second place.”
For her part, Faircloth didn’t want to see the streak end this weekend.
“We want to keep the tradition going,” she said.
Thomson 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
S. Effingham 200 003 x — 5 8 0
W — Alison Kirkland (5-6-1), 15 K, 6 BB. L — Overton.
Leading hitters: SE: Katie Rietkovich 1-2, HR (2), 2 BB; Joni Lynn 3-3, 1 R; Sarah Parker 2-3, 2 RBI.
Harlem 001 000 0 — 1 4 1
S. Effingham 010 020 x — 3 5 1
W — Sally Faircloth (9-4), 8 K, 1 BB. L — Brittany Newsome.
Leading hitters: SE: Ciara Knowles 2-3, R, 1 RBI; Crystal Sellers 1-2; Lynn 1 RBI