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Senior class exits with sterling record
06.01 kirkland w-seniors
South Effingham coach Tony Kirkland gathers his seniors together for one last talk before the Mustangs’ final at-bat of the season. The Mustangs seniors exited with three Class AAA Final Four appearances in four years. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Even as his South Effingham Mustangs had their baseball season end at the hands of Cartersville’s offensive barrage, Tony Kirkland began his plans for the 2009 season.

“I expect a lot of things,” he said in the moments after the Purple Hurricanes completed their Class AAA semifinal series sweep.

It was also the Mustangs’ swan song for AAA — they’re moving up to Class AAAA next season, joining a region with in-county rival Effingham County.

Though he loses seven seniors, Kirkland pointed out that only three of them were everyday starters in the field — shortstop Colby May, catcher John Roberts and third baseman Chris Zittrouer.

But the Mustangs are losing their 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup with that trio, and they are also losing their top two starting pitchers, Jesse Osborne and Matt Zettler.

“Look at what we’re graduating,” Kirkland said. “We feel comfortable with the kids coming through here. But right now, you can’t see where you’re going to get 16 home runs in a guy or the offensive and defensive numbers that Colby put up.”

Roberts led the team in homers with 16, RBIs and batting average. May was second on the team in homers and was a fixture at shortstop.

“And Zitt is our team leader,” Kirkland said. “He is the fire and intensity. He’s going to be difficult to replace.”

The Mustangs are bringing back the entire starting outfield of left fielder Jace Daley, center fielder Zach Anderson and right fielder Marcus Zeigler. Stephen Vaughn and Travis Wooten split time at first base, and Vaughn and Anderson also were called on to pitch. Tyler Dodd got most of the playing time at second base down the stretch, while freshmen Ian Byrd and Tanner Burch had key roles out of the bullpen.

But his senior class — which has already graduated — went to three semifinals in four years and finished with back-to-back appearances in the Final Four. In four years, they went 92-34.

Saying goodbye to the seniors, especially after loss one round short of the state championship round, isn’t easy for the veteran coach.

“It’s tough every year,” Kirkland said. “This year is especially tough.”

Kirkland also is losing pitching coach Danny Daigle. Daigle has been named head coach at Cedar Shoals High School. The Athens school has won just three games in the last two years.