In earning another trip to the Class AAAA state baseball playoffs, the Effingham County Rebels relied on some basic principles for their win — clutch hitting, shutdown pitching and flawless defense.
The Rebels beat the Lakeside-Evans Panthers 7-2 Saturday afternoon, taking their three-game series two games to one. With the win, the Rebels advanced to the region semifinals today against Greenbrier, the two-time defending state champs.
“It’s good for the program, and it’s good for the kids,” Effingham coach Brett Griffin said. “They have worked hard to get here.”
After splitting Friday night’s doubleheader, the Rebels — by virtue of a coin toss — were the visiting team at their own field. And not long after they stranded 10 runners in scoring position in a 5-1 loss in Game 2, they collected all their runs in Game 3 with two outs.
Justin Wilson put the Rebels ahead 1-0 in the top of the second inning with an RBI single to left field past a diving Ben Black to score Daniel Farmer.
The Rebels (14-9) tacked on two more runs in the third. Dylan Scott doubled to left to open the inning, and Josh Moreland faked a bunt and then slapped a single to left to put runners on the corner. One batter later, D.J. Collins bounced a single up the middle to score a run, and Moreland scored when Panthers’ first baseman Chaston Weaver threw wide of second base trying to turn a double play.
But Lakeside cut into the lead in their half of the third. Ryan Hutchins hit a two-run homer that barely cleared the right field fence, trimming the lead to 3-2.
But Moreland retired the final four batters he faced, and reliever Evan Jarman threw three scoreless innings. Jarman also got a couple of sterling defensive plays, as Justin Wilson ranged deep into the hole at short to get Hutchins with two on and two out in the fifth, and Farmer grabbed Chris Burns’ bouncer down the third-base line and made a one-hop throw dug out by first baseman Jonathan Rotureau.
“Our kids played well defensively,” Griffin said, “and our pitchers gave us a chance to win. We made three plays on defense you don’t expect to make.”
Farmer provided the pitchers and the defense some needed breathing room in the fifth. After Zach Dotson and Collins each drew two-out walks, Jarman singled to center to load the bases. Farmer rifled a 3-2 pitch from Black, who was brought on in relief of Mike Graham, past left fielder Will Evans. That cleared the bases, and gave Effingham a 6-2 lead.
In their loss to the Panthers, the Rebels left the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings.
“That’s something we’ve struggled with lately,” Griffin said of his team’s hitting in clutch situations. “We talked with the guys about coming up with the big hit. I thought we did a good job of staying relaxed.
The Rebels pushed across their final run in the sixth. Scott beat out a chopper to short and eventually came around to score on Moreland’s single to center.
Moreland struck out two and gave up three hits in four innings. In earning the save, Jarman fanned three and allowed three hits. For the series, Rebels hurlers yielded 13 hits — 12 of them singles — in 19 innings.
Effingham dispatched Lakeside 13-1 in five innings in Friday’s opener, scoring six runs in the third and seven in the fourth as Dotson and Justin Rogers held the Panthers to two hits. Scott went 2-for-3 with a homer, Jarman was 2-for-3 with two doubles and Collins went 2-for-3 with a double. Josh Brant also doubled, and Garrett Arnsdorff was 1-for-3 as the Rebels finished with nine hits.
In Friday’s nightcap, Arnsdorff went 2-for-2, but the Panthers’ Harrison Brawley limited Effingham to seven hits in a complete-game victory, striking out four.
Effingham was the only South subregion team to survive the first round of the region playoffs. Greenbrier took two of three from Ware County to move on, Evans swept Glynn Academy in their matchup and Statesboro hammered South top seed Wayne County in two games.
The region playoffs will conclude Friday, with the winner of the Effingham-Greenbrier game meeting the Statesboro-Evans winner for the championship. The losers of the two games Tuesday will meet Friday to determine the No. 3 and 4 seeds.
“We want to continue this and ride it as far it will take us,” Griffin said.