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Mustangs draw a tough No. 4
Seniors Waylon Pickard and Matt Tufts celebrate Tufts’ home run Monday against Calvary. The Mustangs open the Class AAA playoffs Friday against Shaw. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

To hear South Effingham baseball coach Tony Kirkland tell it, this is no ordinary No. 4 seed coming to The Corral on Friday.

The Mustangs, champions of Region 3-AAA, will play host to the Shaw Raiders on Friday in a 5 p.m. doubleheader in their best-of-three first round state playoff series. While Shaw has made its mark as one of Class AAA’s dominant football teams — the Raiders have been runners-up twice in the last five years —it also has made its mark in baseball. The Raiders reached the finals two years ago before being swept by rival Columbus.

One thing is in the Mustangs’ favor — they don’t have to travel across the state for the series.

“We’re ready for it,” Kirkland said after his team got a tuneup with playoff-like atmosphere in Monday’s 15-14 win over Calvary. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to play at home. But we are matched up with the best region in AAA. Their No. 4 is every bit as strong as we are. This isn’t like the NCAA basketball tournament.”

Three of AAA’s top 10 teams — No. 3 Harris County, No. 6 Columbus and No. 9 Troup — are in  Region 2.

Shaw (16-10, 13-7 Region 2-AAA) was swept by Columbus, but split with LaGrange and swept Northside-Columbus. They have scored 10 or more runs in six of their last nine games. Kirkland and his staff went to Columbus last week to scout Shaw, and they saw the Raiders torch Northside’s Ryan Kirk, a Columbus State signee, for 16 hits in an 11-1 victory. Earlier this season, the Raiders fell 11-10 to Northgate, a top 5 team in Class AAAA.

“We’re going to have get those guys out, and they hit the ball well,” Kirkland said of the Raiders.

But the Mustangs (15-9, 9-2 Region 3-AAA) have finished the season with a flurry and are as healthy now as they have been at any point of the season. Seniors Paul Cheeks and Matt Tufts have missed most of the campaign but are full go now. Ryan Cole won the region championship game after being out most of the year.

South Effingham enters the state playoffs on a five-game winning streak.

“I like the way we finished the season,” Kirkland said. “We finished the season more as a team than we had been.”