John Roberts had no idea the first of his three-run homers has gone over the fence. With the second, there was no doubt as soon as it left his bat.
Roberts and the South Effingham Mustangs hammered the Liberty County Panthers 17-2 in a mercy-rule victory at Mustang Field on Saturday. With the win, the Mustangs went to 10-7 on the year and 5-0 in Region 3-AAA South.
“That was awful,” Kirkland said. “But we’ll take it.”
When the game ended on Stephen Vaughn’s two-run double to center in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Mustangs had more hits (12) than outs (11).
Roberts, a sophomore catcher, has put in additional work with Kirkland, and it appears it’s paying off. He went 4-for-5 with five RBIs in Wednesday’s 11-3 win over Hephzibah and was 3-for-4 with seven RBIs Saturday.
“Coach has really helped me a lot,” Roberts said. “I’ve been staying extra after practice with coach for about an hour or so. At the beginning of the year, I was really struggling.”
Said Kirkland: “He’s swinging it well.”
There were no such struggles for the Mustang hitters Saturday or for their fielders in a howling wind right out of an Edgar Allan Poe tale.
The story was vastly different for the Panthers. They committed six errors, some the result of battling the gale that swept through the field, some not.
Liberty starter Aaron Hoffer got out of a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the first. But in the second, the South Effingham bats and the Panthers’ miscues began to pile up. Third baseman Paul Davis’ throw to first on Patrick Styblo’s sacrifice bunt try hit first baseman Justin Eaton, who was ducking out of the way. Two batters later, Zach Anderson’s wind-blown pop up into shallow left-center landed among three Panthers fielders and an ensuing poor throw from Davis allowed another run to score.
Roberts then connected for his first three-run homer, even if he was walking to first base as it sailed over the fence and left fielder Brad Harris was camped on the foul line 50 feet in front of the wall, waiting for it to come down. Roberts didn’t know it was gone until he saw the umpire make the call.
“I thought he was going to catch it,” Roberts said. “I had no clue. That wind helped me a lot.”
The Mustangs made it 8-0 in the third with three runs off Eaton. Walt Armstrong drove in a run with a single, Colby May plated another with a sac fly and Roberts drilled a run-scoring double to right.
Liberty (5-11, 2-3 Region 3-AAA) pushed across its only two runs in the top of the fourth on a ground out and Davis’ two-out single just out of Armstrong’s reach down the right field line.
Of the Panthers’ six hits off Jesse Osborne, four came in the fourth. The runs also snapped a string of 24 2/3 scoreless innings for Osborne, who had posted three straight shutouts. Osborne struck out four and walked one, and 50 of his 66 pitches went for strikes.
“That’s a testament to Ozzie,” Kirkland said of his right-hander’s performance with a wind whistling out, “and he pitched well tonight.”
The Mustangs sent 12 men to the plate in the fourth, getting five hits, three walks, a hit batter, three wild pitches, a passed ball and two errors from the Panthers. Roberts’ second three-run homer, a line shot that needed no help from the wind, made it 15-2.
“I knew the fastball was coming,” Roberts said. “I had been watching him when I was on the on-deck circle. That was sweet; that was nice. That was way better than the first one.”
Said Kirkland, “It wouldn’t have mattered if the wind was blowing out or not, that’s a ball that gets out of here.”
Eight Mustangs collected hits, as Keifer Youmans went 2-for-4 with a double and Styblo, restricted to bunting, had two bunt singles. The Mustangs coach admonished his team before the game not to try to think about the wind as they stood at the plate.
“John was a great example of that,” Kirkland said. “We had a couple of balls hit hard into the power alleys.”
Saturday’s win also meant something new for the Mustangs, who are coming off back-to-back state semifinals appearances — they hadn’t been through the first leg of the region schedule undefeated, until this year.
‘There’s a lot of things that can change,” Kirkland warned.
The Mustangs are off until Friday, when they host Richmond Hill. Benedictine and Burke County will play at Mustang Field today at 6 p.m.