Buoyed by strong starting pitching and bolstered by another blistering attack by the offense, the South Effingham Mustangs are back in the Class AAA state baseball quarterfinals.
The Mustangs swept their second-round series with the ninth-ranked Henry County Warhawks, taking the opener 9-3 and rolling to a 10-0, five-inning victory in the second game. South Effingham (22-7) will hit the road again Tuesday to face No. 6-ranked Oconee County for a shot at yet another appearance in the Final Four.
“It was a great job by the pitching staff,” South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland said. “We put a lot of balls in play, and they made a lot of mistakes. We hit a bunch of balls into the gap.”
Jesse Osborne, in his first extensive action in a month, threw five scoreless innings before the Warhawks (17-7) reached him for three runs in the sixth. He struck out six in six innings, and Matt Zettler, the Game 2 starter, fanned five in five innings.
The Mustangs led 3-0 in Game 1 through four innings before getting to Henry County starter Jamel Mann in the fifth. They tacked on two more in the seventh.
Stephen Vaughn went 3-for-4 with a triple and a double, and Marcus Zeigler was 2-for-4 with a triple and a double and drove in three runs in Game 1.
South Effingham athletic trainer Chase Grant accompanied the team on the trip, working with Osborne to get the senior right-hander’s back in good enough shape for him to pitch.
“He has worked very, very hard to get Ozzie back on the mound,” Kirkland said of Grant.
“Now, he’s got to work on Colby May.”
The Mustangs played most of the doubleheader without May, their starting shortstop, who injured his hamstring while running the bases in the first game.
His replacement in the lineup, Chris Morris, took advantage of the opportunity to play. Tyler Dodd shifted to short, and Morris went to second base for Dodd. At the plate, the diminutive junior reached base six times in seven plate appearances, including a homer in the Game 2 win.
“He saw a 2-0 pitch and put a 2-0 swing on it, and he got great results,” Kirkland said. “It was a great job with a kid having to come off the bench and having to play.”
John Roberts also homered, his 16th of the season, in the Game 2 blowout, with both home runs impressing the Mustangs’ coach given the vastness of Henry County’s field.
Kirkland praised hits No. 6 and 7 hitters in the lineup, Vaughn and Zeigler. Together, they were 7-for-13 with five RBIs and five runs scored.
“(They) lit it up in both ballgames,” he said.
South Effingham jumped on Warhawks starter Quez Harris for six runs in the bottom of the first inning. Roberts went 2-for-3 and knocked in three runs and Chris Zittrouer went 2-for-3. Dodd and Vaughn also each drove in a run.
Zettler walked three and gave up five hits, but the defense also turned two double plays, allowing him to face only four over the minimum.
In addition, the Mustangs only committed one error in 12 innings against Henry County, while the Warhawks made seven errors. South Effingham’s pitchers held Henry County to 11 hits.
The Mustangs have been to the semifinals in three of the previous four seasons. To get there, they’ll have to contend with disrupting their schedule again — finals are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, and the Mustangs plan to leave for Watkinsville late Monday afternoon.
“They know what they want to do,” Kirkland said of his team. “We’ve been in the Final Four enough, they know that’s a sticker that goes on the board out there.”
The wall outside the Mustangs’ batting cage bears the program’s accomplishments, including its state semifinals appearances and its region championships. To get to the semifinals and beyond, the Mustangs will get to know the road well — the winner of the South Effingham-Oconee series will face the winner of the Cartersville-Columbus series, both region champions.
That means should the Mustangs upend the Warriors on Tuesday, they will go back out on the road.