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Mustangs can rest easy--for now
South Effingham gets ready for Columbus in Class AAA semifinals
Colby May, here about to turn a double play against Riverwood in South Effingham’s Game 1 win of their Class AAA state quarterfinals series, and the Mustangs finally got a chance to get some rest after their three-game thriller with the Raiders. But No. 6 Columbus will be at The Corral on Monday for the start of the semifinals. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Roberts delivers a shot

John Roberts delivers a shot to left field.

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Pickard makes the catch

Waylon Pickard makes the final catch against Riverwood.

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Waylon Pickard didn’t sleep much Tuesday night, and it wasn’t because teammates Paul Cheeks and Matt Tufts were at his house playing video games.

The three South Effingham baseball players were trying to shake off the Game 2 loss to Riverwood that night, a game they led by four until the Raiders stormed back for a 6-5 win, forcing a Game 3 the next day.

As for his coach, Pickard didn’t even have to ask how much Tony Kirkland slept that night.

“I know he didn’t sleep,” the Mustangs third baseman said. “He never does.”

As it is, the Mustangs enjoyed a rare off day Thursday after their 10-7 win Wednesday over Riverwood, setting up Monday’s doubleheader with Columbus in the Class AAA state semifinals.

“I didn’t get up this morning,” Kirkland said after the Mustangs clinched another state semifinals berth. “I don’t think I ever fell asleep. My arm fell asleep, but the rest of my body never caught up.”

The Mustangs may be the most unlikely and unheralded of the Final Four teams, even if this is South Effingham’s third trip to the semis in four years — Dunwoody, Carrollton and Columbus are all ranked in the top 10, but South Effingham hasn’t been ranked since the middle of the season. But for the Mustangs’ seniors, this is the first time for many of them they’ve played a meaningful part in getting to this stage.

Last year, the Mustangs fell in the second round to Harris County. This year, the Mustangs got out of the gate slowly, but have found their stride in the last month. And they’ve done it without a lot of star power, either.

“It means a lot,” Pickard said. “The first two years, I didn’t play much. But after last year, this is huge.”

In the series win over Riverwood, the Mustangs committed just three errors and their bullpen, relying mainly on Matt Zettler and Colby May, registered 11 strikeouts in 11 innings.

At the plate, nine different Mustangs drove in runs during the series, and they hit a collective .315. They also turned three double plays, including a crucial twin-killing the sixth inning of Game 3.

Riverwood coach Mike Santoro said the Mustangs stack up well against Dunwoody, which will play Carrollton in the other semifinal.

“South Effingham is a team that when firing on all cylinders can play with Dunwoody,” he said. “Dunwoody has two tough pitchers. But South Effingham brought their bats with them. They’re not up there to walk.”

Against Dunwoody earlier this year, the Mustangs trailed 3-2 before the Wildcats broke it open and won 9-3. David Port struck out six and allowed six hits in a complete-game win.

But the Mustangs’ record against some of the state’s best teams is solid if not spectacular. They swept their season series with Class AA quarterfinalist Savannah Christian, split with defending Class A state champ Calvary, including a wild 15-14 slugfest, and split with Jeff Davis, also a Class AA quarterfinalist.

Plus, they beat Carrollton, one of the other Class AAA Final Four teams, 5-0 this year.

“We got ourselves scheduled against what we consider the best in the state,” Kirkland said. “We’ve had high-caliber opponents all year.”

Class AAA semifinals
• Who: Columbus (26-7) at South Effingham (21-10)
• What: Best of three series
• When: Monday, 5 p.m.; Tuesday at 1 p.m. if necessary
• Where: The Corral
• Next: Winner advances to Class AAA state championship series.