Just as the sun sets in the west, the South Effingham Mustangs softball team goes undefeated, wins the region championship and advances to the Class AAA elite eight.
At least, that’s what the Lady Mustangs have done for the past four years.
“Our winning tradition is based on pitching and defense,” SEHS coach Donnie Ussery said. “We have a lot of girls who have played a lot of softball since they were five years old and we benefit from their success.”
Ussery is quick to point out that the parents and the community are largely responsible for preparing the players.
“The parents and the community members put in a lot of time with the girls and when they come to me, they’re ready to play,” he said. “I am very fortunate to have a good group of parents and a community that supports softball.”
However easy the Mustangs may have made it seem by going 40-0 in Region 3-AAA (A/south) the past four years, it actually takes hard work.
Senior pitcher Allison Kirkland, who is 25-3, with the three losses coming in the state playoffs, said the girls are always striving to be better.
“We’re always pushing each other to our best potential. There is always someone motivating us at all times,” she said. “We get respect from a bunch of people because we have a lot of talent and are blessed with it. We grew up playing softball and it’s our life.”
Despite the recent success of the Mustangs, one thing has eluded them — a state championship. That’s something Kirkland plans to change this season.
“I am pushing myself as hard as I can. I didn’t try as hard as I should have last year,” she said. “This year, I am pushing myself as hard as I can and am not giving up until I get what I want — a state championship.”
The Mustangs took the first step toward that elusive goal last Wednesday, by hosting the first day of tryouts.
Ussery said 32 girls came out for the team and he said there is no specific number that will make the team.
“If you can play, then you can play for us. There is no magic number,” he said. “If I think you are a player, then you will play for me.”
When asked what it takes to be a Lady Mustang, Ussery said players should be strong defensively, have speed and hit.
Last year, the team hit .330 and speed played a major role in it.
“Speed is an important part of this game,” Ussery said. “One or two runs can decide a game.”
Players hoping to make the team were tested on their speed. Ussery and his coaching staff clocked the players on the 60-yard dash.
The coaches also grade the players on defensive drills.
“This game comes down to pitching and defense,” Ussery said. “We grade the outfielders on velocity and how quick they get the ball to the base it needs to go to and the same with the infielders, their velocity and how quick they get the balls out of their gloves.”
The Mustangs start the season at 7 p.m. on Aug. 17 against intra-county rival Effingham County.
For fans wanting an early preview of the Lady Mustangs, the team scrimmages Savannah Christian at 7 p.m. Friday.