The stretch limo pulled right up to the gate for the five South Effingham Lady Mustang senior softball players. It already had been quite a ride, and it may be far from finished.
On senior night, the Lady Mustangs blanked the Liberty County Lady Panthers 9-0 Tuesday night, getting a combined no-hitter from Allison Kirkland and Sally Faircloth.
“It was a good night,” South Effingham coach Donnie Ussery said. “These five seniors have worked incredibly hard for the last four years. To go out like this, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
The Lady Mustangs, who still had a doubleheader to make up with Hephzibah on Wednesday, left the field as Region 3-AAA (South) champs.
After Kirkland fired a strike to open the top of the fifth inning, Ussery called for time and replaced each of his seniors in the field, Kirkland, catcher Crystal Sellers, right fielder Ciara Knowles, left fielder Lindsey Brichacek and center fielder Laura Bryant.
“To take them out at one time meant a lot to me and their parents,” Ussery said.
By that time, the Lady Mustangs (16-10-1 overall and 8-0 in the region) already had a nine-run cushion, and Ussery made almost full use of his bench over the final three innings.
Kirkland struck out 10 in four innings and allowed only one baserunner, a two-out walk in the second to Dominique Sibley. She struck out six straight Lady Panthers (10-6, 4-4) in one stretch.
Faircloth picked up where Kirkland left off. She struck out six, fanning the side in the fifth and getting the first two outs in the sixth by strikeout, and gave up just a walk to Jackie Gonzales in the sixth.
“That’s the key to our season, good defense and great pitching,” Ussery said. “Allison and Sally and Casey have had incredible seasons.”
The Lady Mustangs offense wasted no time in backing the dominating pitching performance. Alexis Mercer’s single to center brought in Katie Rietkovich with the first run in the home half of the first and Knowles delivered an RBI single to right. After Austin Oglesby loaded the bases with a base hit to center, Brichacek knocked in two runs with a single to right, putting the Lady Mustangs up 4-0, though she was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
Rietkovich struck in the bottom of the third, driving in two more runs with a triple to right field to make it 7-0.
In the fourth, a run scored on a wild pitch and Knowles knocked in Joni Lynn with an RBI single for the final tally.
The Lady Mustangs pounded out 12 hits, and the seniors paved the way. Knowles led the attack with three singles, Brichacek drove in three runs and Bryant also knocked in a run.
“Our bats are starting to wake up,” Ussery said.
LCHS 000 000 0 — 0 0 2
SEHS 403 200 x — 9 12 0
W — Alison Kirkland (3-6-1). L — Jackee Gonzales.
Leading hitters: SE: Ciara Knowles, 2-3, R, 2 RBI; Lindsey Brichacek, 1-2, R, 2 RBI; Austin Oglesby, 3-4, R; Katie Rietkovich, 2-2, R, 2 RBI; Joni Lynn 2-4.