South Effingham baseball coach Tony Kirkland couldn’t have asked for more than to have a chance to beat one of the nation’s top baseball teams — except perhaps to get that one key hit that would have given the Mustangs the victory.
The Greenbrier Wolfpack, ranked No. 1 in the state among Class AAAA teams and No. 40 in the nation by Baseball America, held on for a 5-3 win Saturday night at The Corral, ending a three-team, three-game play day.
“It was a good ballgame,” Kirkland said. “We saw a good pitcher. I would like to have seen us make better adjustments than we did.
“It was a long day of baseball. A doubleheader takes a little bit out of you when you’re not used to them.”
Wolfpack lefty Pat McGowan struck out Travis Wooten with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
McGowan, who went the distance, struck out seven and walked two. He got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth, striking out Ryan Baggott and getting Wooten to fly out to right field.
“He’s not going to blow the radar gun up,” Greenbrier coach Rodney Holder said of McGowan. “But he competes. There’s no wasted motion, no wasted effort. It’s easy to play defense behind him. He sets the tone.”
Nolan Belcher, the Wolfpack’s No. 1 starter, got Greenbrier started in the first off Mustangs ace Jesse Osborne with a double to right. T.D. Davis’ single to left brought in Belcher, but Osborne coaxed a double play grounder from Adam King to end the inning.
The Wolfpack reached Osborne for three runs on three hits in the second, with Ben Morgan ripping an RBI double to left and McGowan coming through with a two-strike, two-out, two-run single to right.
Osborne settled down after that. He went 6 1/3 innings, striking out six and walking two while giving up 10 hits.
The Mustangs finally solved McGowan in the third inning, starting a three-run rally with two out and no one on. Colby May and John Roberts each singled, and Chris Zittrouer followed with a run-scoring single to left. Marcus Zeigler lined a 2-2 pitch into center field, bringing in two more runs.
But the Mustangs stranded 10 runners, six of them in scoring position.
“I would say it’s a good measuring stick,” Kirkland remarked of playing the two-time defending Class AAAA state champs, “because we’ve got to get to a point where we get those runs in. We had runners on, but we didn’t get them until we had two outs.
“If this group wants to be special, those two runs and those bases-loaded situations, we’ve got to have people come through.”
Zittrouer was 2-for-4 for the Mustangs and Wooten had a triple. Stephen Vaughn got the final two outs in the seventh inning. Belcher and Davis were each 2-for-4 for the Wolfpack.
Belcher got a complete-game 2-1 win against Carrollton prior to the Wolfpack’s victory over South Effingham.
The Mustangs, ranked No. 2 in Class AAA, started the day with an 11-8 win over the No. 5-ranked Trojans. John Roberts hit a two-run homer, his seventh of the season, in the first as the Mustangs built a 7-0 lead.
But Carrollton scored six runs in the sixth, cutting the gap to 9-8, before the Mustangs pushed across two more runs.
Zach Anderson was 1-for-3 and drove in three runs, Roberts was 2-for-4, Zittrouer knocked in two runs, May was 1-for-3 with an RBI and Zeigler and Vaughn each had an RBI. Baggott was also 2-for-4.
Matt Zettler went five innings, striking out four while hitting three and walking one. He allowed six runs on six hits.
Tyler Davis was 2-for-2 for the Trojans with a solo homer and Eric Jay Phillips went 2-for-4 with a solo shot. South Effingham outhit the Trojans 10-9.
The win over Carrollton was the 100th for Kirkland.
“It was nice,” he said. “I’ll take the baseball and put it in a cabinet and look at it every three months or so. It was a special group to do this with.”
The Mustangs host Calvary Day, the defending Class A state champs, on Thursday at 5:45 p.m.