John Roberts doesn’t want to think about the tear he’s on right now.
The South Effingham Mustangs were held to two hits by Statesboro’s pitching staff Wednesday. But Roberts provided both of them, a three-run shot to right center field and a grand slam to left center to ice the game, in an 8-2 Mustangs win.
“I’m still in shock,” Mustangs coach Tony Kirkland said of his senior catcher’s early-season performance.
Roberts’ two homers, his fifth and sixth of the year, gave him 21 runs batted in in just eight games.
“That is unbelievable,” Kirkland said. “Not to mention he is playing stellar defense. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a ballgame winning with two hits.”
Roberts went on a similar tear last year, but then he started to dwell on it and he slumped. So he’s not trying to figure out why or how he’s off to a torrid start.
“It’s the Good Lord,” he said. “He has blessed me.”
Both pitches Roberts hit out Wednesday were fastballs.
“The second one, I had no idea it was going to go out,” he said. “The first one was in my wheelhouse.”
With the Blue Devils leading 1-0 in the bottom of the third inning, starting pitcher Tony Hill hit two batters before Roberts drilled a two-strike pitch for South Effingham’s first hit.
In the sixth, with the Mustangs clinging to a 4-2 lead, relievers Trey Roberson and Aaron Cone loaded the bases on two-out walks. Roberts then hit his second career grand slam, with Hill, now in center field, scaling the fence in a desperate attempt to nab the ball before it landed.
“He was close,” Roberts said. “It was about six inches. I was excited when it landed. My gut was pretty tight going to first base.”
Before the inning, Kirkland advised his team that if they got four hits that inning, they wouldn’t have to do poles — post-game sprints from foul pole to foul pole — based on the assumption that the hits would lead to more runs. They only got one hit, but they got four runs.
“Just trying to give the man what he wants,” Roberts quipped.
The Mustangs scored all eight runs with two outs and pushed across a run in the fifth inning without a hit. Chris Zittrouer reached when Blue Devils third baseman Brandon Wilson couldn’t handle his squibber. Marcus Zeigler followed with another bouncer to third, and Wilson’s throw to first skipped past first baseman Zack Taylor. Zittrouer scored all the way from first for a 4-2 lead.
The Blue Devils cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth. Cone scored on a wild pitch from Zach Anderson and Hill’s single to left and stolen base put runners on second and third with one out. But Anderson lunged for Crawford Simmons’ squeeze attempt and got Luke Connell at home.
He got out of the inning as Zittrouer fielded Wilson’s chopper right in front of third base and fired to first.
Anderson went the distance, striking out two, walking one and giving up seven hits. He went eight innings last year against the Blue Devils in Statesboro for a 4-2 victory.
“If anybody has ever watched him on the basketball court or the baseball field, you are not going to beat him on heart and competitiveness,” Kirkland said. “That’s just not going to happen. Zach did a great job. He kept his composure when he struggled with his off-speed pitches.”
Statesboro’s pitching staff, regarded as one of the best around, struck out six. Blue Devils hurlers fanned 11 Mustangs in a 3-0 season-opening victory. This time, they walked seven and hit three. Hill struck out five in 4 2/3 innings.
“A very dominating power pitcher with effective wildness can do a lot of things in this game, and he was exactly that,” Kirkland said.
The win put the Mustangs at 6-2 and it also erased the sting of the loss in the first game of the season.
“It’s a big deal,” Roberts said. “To come back after losing the first game with goose egg on the board — nice.”