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Mustangs cementing spot among best
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Tony Kirkland led the South Effingham Mustangs into the Class AAA state baseball playoffs against the Cartersville Purple Hurricanes. - photo by File photo

How the rest of the state views his baseball program doesn’t keep South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland up at night. But making the Mustangs one of the best in Georgia has been one of his goals.

“I like for our program from day one to be recognized as one of the elite in the state,” he said of his aspirations when he got to South Effingham in 2004.

It appears Kirkland has reached that goal. The Mustangs entered the Class AAA semifinals against Cartersville ranked No. 7 in the state. They had been ranked No. 1 for a stretch in the statewide coaches poll.

The Mustangs, 24-7 before facing No. 2-ranked Cartersville, have won 117 in five seasons. Along the way, they’ve been to the state semifinals four times. They’ve won their region championship three times and won the subregion two other times.

South Effingham went to the state semifinals in Kirkland’s first season — with Cartersville knocking them out with a Game 3 victory — and followed that up with another Final Four trip the next year.

“We started getting ranked a little bit in that second year,” Kirkland said.

But where his team is in the rankings doesn’t matter as much to Kirkland as what other coaches think of what his team can bring and the field they have to play on.

South Effingham played two defending state champions this year — Calvary Day and Greenbrier — and they beat Carrollton, another of the Class AAA Final Four participants this year. They split with Statesboro, which went to the second round in Class AAAA, topped Lee County, a AAAA Elite Eight team, and lost 8-6 to Camden County — a Class AAAAA Elite Eight team — in the regular season finale.

And the Georgia Dugout Club named the Mustangs’ field the best in Class AAA last year.

“I like it when people come here and they know we have a nice facility,” Kirkland said. “And they want to play us because we’re competitive.”

Still, there’s one last accomplishment Kirkland would love to make — getting to a state championship round.

“The law of averages at some point has to come into it,” he said.