With his team ahead by six runs, Effingham County coach Brett Griffin remained apprehensive. When the Rebels trailed by three runs, he didn’t get anxious.
Effingham County answered South Effingham’s comeback with one of its own, scoring five times in the seventh inning for an 11-9 victory Tuesday night.
Daniel Farmer, who had hit a two-run homer earlier in the game, delivered the game-breaking hit in the seventh, lining a two-run single off reliever Travis Wooten to left over a leaping Chris Zittrouer. It also gave the Rebels a season sweep of their series with South Effingham for the second straight year.
“It was good for us to come back and win,” Griffin said. “It sets us up going into the region playoffs.”
Wooten was the second pitcher of the inning, and the eighth of the game for the Mustangs. The Rebels (12-8) used four pitchers, with Evan Jarman getting the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
“I knew both of us were going to have to go deep into our bullpens,” Griffin said. “I knew if we could be patient, it might work out for us.”
Said Mustangs coach Tony Kirkland: “There was nothing about this game that was remotely normal. Nothing.”
Leading 9-6, thanks to a three-run Colby May blast in a five-run fifth to put South Effingham ahead for the first time, the Mustangs (17-5) turned to May to close the game. But he walked the first four batters of the seventh before giving way to Wooten.
“The last two years, Colby is the guy in the seventh,” Kirkland said. “We probably went one batter too long with Colby.”
Garrett Arnsdorff singled to center, and Dylan Scott’s sacrifice fly to center tied the game at 9-9. Josh Moreland reached when his bunt attempt was misplayed, but Wooten fanned Zach Dotson with the bases loaded before Farmer came through.
“Farmer and Arnsdorff came up with two big hits in that last inning,” Griffin said.
It was senior night for the Mustangs, and Kirkland had a script to follow. That started well enough, as pitcher Jesse Osborne threw a first-pitch strike to Scott and was promptly lifted for Matt Zettler. It was supposed to stand in for a bullpen session for Zettler.
But the Rebels scrapped Kirkland’s plans. After Zach Anderson’s diving attempt at Dotson’s line drive for a double plated Scott, Jarman knocked Zettler out of the game with a liner off the hurler’s left leg.
Stephen Vaughn was summoned earlier than anticipated to take over Zettler and an errant pickoff throw preceded three straight singles as the Rebels sent 10 men to the plate and scored four runs. Scott faced three pitchers in the inning.
Farmer made it 6-0 in the second, lifting a Vaughn offering over the fence in left field, before Vaughn retired the last five batters he faced.
The Mustangs got on the board in the bottom of the third, as Moreland hit Wooten with the bases loaded to force in a run. Ryan Baggott worked a two-out walk before D.J. Collins got the final out.
“That’s what they’re learning, that baseball is a funny game,” Griffin said of his team. One inning could be 1-2-3, and the next inning could be trouble at the plate.”
South Effingham trimmed the lead to 6-4 in the fourth, with Anderson scoring from first as May’s single to center got by Scott and John Roberts adding a RBI single.
The Mustangs went in front in the fifth. Tyler Dodd ripped a run-scoring double to right field, and Zach Anderson’s groundout brought in another run. May stepped in with two on and two out and Roberts on deck.
That left Griffin with a difficult choice — pitch to May and risk a game-changing hit, or walk him and pitch to Roberts, who has hit 13 homers on the season.
“They’ve got a good ballclub,” Griffin said. “You don’t know what to do in that situation.”
May lined a three-run homer off Justin Rogers, who later escaped a bases-loaded jam by getting Jake Youmans to pop out to second.
The Rebels loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, but reliever Kane Smith induced a 5-4-3 double play from Farmer to get out of the inning. South Effingham had a chance to extend the lead in the bottom of the inning, but Dodd couldn’t break from third on a wild pitch and Rogers, now catching, picked Anderson off first to end the inning.
The Mustangs had rallied for three of the wins in their 10-game streak that ended Tuesday night. But the Rebels turned a 4-3-5 double play to end the game.
“We had baserunning mistakes, a couple of fielding miscues and we were getting overkeyed in the situation,” Kirkland said. “We had a point where we showed signs of frustration. We hadn’t had that before, and we had no need for it.”
For the Rebels, Farmer went 2-for-5 and drove in four runs and Jarman was 2-for-3. Nine different Rebels had hits, and five played at least two positions in the game.
May was 3-for-5 with four RBIs, and six different Mustangs drove in runs.
But both coaches are ready to put Tuesday’s game quickly behind them — Effingham opens the Region 3-AAAA playoffs at home Friday night with a doubleheader against Lakeside-Evans, and the Mustangs face Liberty County at home Friday with a chance to run the table in Region 3-AAA (B).
“A year from now, it means a lot more than it does now,” Kirkland said, noting that both teams will be in the same region next year.
“I think both teams truly understand that in the grand scheme of things, this game means nothing,” Griffin said. “But for our confidence for the next two weeks, it’s nice to have.”