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Mustangs claim region
Roberts two-run single breaks tie in seventh
Region 006
South Effingham’s seniors, with Waylon Pickard, Paul Cheeks and Walt Armstrong in front, raise the Region 3-AAA trophy Tuesday in Harlem. - photo by Photo submitted

The South Effingham Mustangs baseball team finished what it started Tuesday night.

The Mustangs (14-9) beat Harlem 3-1 and captured the Region 3-AAA baseball crown for the second straight season and have won four in a row.

The Mustangs, winners of the South subregion title, started the region schedule 5-0 before dropping back-to-back games. But they reeled off three straight wins to finish the regular season, including a come-from-behind win last Friday at Liberty County.

“It’s a great win,” Mustangs coach Tony Kirkland said. “It was a great ballgame. It’s been a very difficult year, and the kids have just persevered through it.”

John Roberts, who had two hits, snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run single in the top of the seventh inning, and Colby May pitched a scoreless seventh for the save.

Waylon Pickard got the win for his one scoreless inning of relief. Ryan Cole held the Bulldogs to one run on four hits in his longest stint of the season.

Cole, who had offseason Tommy John surgery, didn’t get the win, leaving the game when it was tied. But his performance heartened the Mustangs as they enter the state playoffs again.

Cole struck out six, throwing 67 pitches in his five innings.

“His velocity may not have been where it was,” Kirkland said, “but he didn’t walk a batter and he did it on a pretty big stage. He did a nice job.”

Harlem will enter the Class AAA playoffs as the No. 2 seed from Region 3-AAA. Richmond Hill, who tied the Mustangs for the best subregion record but lost the title in a run differential tiebreaker, and Benedictine earned the other two spots.

Throughout the course of the year, the Mustangs have been without Matt Tufts, and Cole, Patrick Styblo and Paul Cheeks have missed the majority of the season. At one point, Kirkland was minus six players because of illness and injury early in the season.

Had he been asked at the beginning of the year what the chances of repeating as region champs would be, minus a handful of players?

“Probably not,” Kirkland said. “But when we first got a couple of region wins, I think we started expecting to win.”

South Effingham likely will host Shaw in the first round of the state playoffs. The Mustangs will close the regular season Monday at home against Calvary, the No. 4-ranked team in Class A.