One constant for the South Effingham Lady Mustangs’ softball team this year has been pitching. Don’t expect that to change as the Class AAA state sectionals begin Friday at Southern Pines Complex in Dublin.
“That’s one great thing we have,” Lady Mustangs coach Donnie Ussery said. “We have depth in pitching.”
It showed in South Effingham’s march to yet another region crown, its fifth in a row, last weekend. Senior Alison Kirkland fanned 15 in a two-hit shutout, with relief help from Casey Johnson, in a 5-0 win over Thomson. Junior Sally Faircloth went the distance in the circle in the finale, striking out the last four batters in a 3-1 victory over Harlem.
Besides the pitching, the Lady Mustangs also have been riding solid defense. They made three errors in four games in the Region 3-AAA tournament.
“I haven’t seen us make two errors in a row in the five years I’ve been here,” Ussery said. “That’s something we work on.”
The offense also has been impressive lately. The Lady Mustangs scored 10 or more runs in three straight games prior to the region tournament and scored 73 runs over the last six regular-season games.
“I’m extremely excited about this weekend,” Ussery said. “I really feel I’ve prepared them the best I could. The competition we faced earlier this year has paid off.”
That rigorous early-season schedule has included the top-ranked teams in Classes AAAAA, AAAA, AAA and AA.
South Effingham (22-10-1) has won nine straight games since a 2-1 loss to Class AAAA Greenbrier. Four of those victories came via the mercy rule.
“Our pitching and defense throughout the years has been consistent. Hitting the ball is something we’ve had to work on,” Ussery said. “I thought last year we peaked too early. Now seeing that quality pitching earlier in the year is starting to pay off for us. We know how to make adjustments.”
South Effingham opens the sectionals against Cairo, which finished the regular season atop Region 1-AAA. The Lady Syrupmakers are 19-6, having lost to Crisp County 6-2 in 10 innings in the Region 1-AAA tournament.
“Cairo’s got the ability to be a really good team,” Ussery said of the Lady Syrupmakers. “We’ve got a difficult first-round opponent, and we’ve got to be ready.”
The Lady Mustangs have not faced Cairo this season, but they have gone up against possible second-round opponent Hardaway twice. The Lady Golden Hawks won both games, 8-2 and 2-1. Hardaway, ranked seventh in the statewide coaches poll, opens with No. 9 Ola. The winner of the South Effingham-Cairo game faces the Hardaway-Ola winner Friday at 8 p.m.
“Hardaway has been a true fast-pitch powerhouse,” Ussery said. “A lot of people around the state say that 1 through 9 they might have the best lineup in the state.”
Yet his team, should it face Hardaway, is different from the one that dropped two games to the Lady Hawks back in August.
“We’re a lot better,” Ussery said.