By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD -- A dreary day couldn’t shade the bright future for Effingham County’s softball team.
The Rebels’ season ended with 9-0, 6-0 losses to third-ranked Buford in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament Tuesday but coach Jane Trzaska saw a lot of positives despite a scoreboard filled with zeroes.
“These players continued to get better,” she said. “They continued to work in practice. They didn’t want to plateau. We have so much potential. We’re only losing two seniors. They were key players.
"Now we’ll have to have some more young girls step up and get ready to play.”
It’s the nature of high school athletics. Returning players take the spots vacated by seniors. Appearances in the state playoffs brings experience.
The Rebels learned the hard way against some Wolves, who were ready to prey on the young. ECHS committed five errors in the first three innings of the opener and Buford, which won 10 straight state softball championships from 2007 to 2016, scored six unearned runs and set the tone for the day.
In the second game, Buford unleashed a 10-hit attack against Rebel freshman pitcher Ava Wingate.
“The nerves got to us and that’s understandable,” Trzaska said. “We have a very young team. We’re starting freshmen, we’re starting sophomores and, for a lot of them, it’s a bigger stage than they’re used to.”
But subtract a bad day and Trzaska can’t complain. Her team rebounded from a 5-5 start to finish the season with an 18-8 record.
In the final poll before the state tourney, Score Atlanta ranked ECHS ninth in Class AAAAAA.
Along the way to the Sweet Sixteen, the Rebels avenged a 9-1 loss to rival South Effingham on Aug. 19 and won 2-1 in their next encounter.
ECHS dropped two games to Glynn Academy but captured the one that mattered the most -- a dramatic 5-1 win in the Region 2-AAAAAA tournament semifinals after being no-hit for the first seven innings.
The next day, the Rebels completed their seeding burst -- a third-to-first, 48-hour run -- by defeating the rain and Richmond Hill 2-0.
ECHS continued rolling by trouncing Lovejoy 15-0 and 20-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rebels will graduate one of their top offensive threats, Jennie Edinger, who smacked the grand slam to beat Glynn at region, and one of their top defensive players, center fielder Enna Lackey, who rarely lets fly balls land on grass.
But the 2022 expected returning starters -- Rylee Mills, Olivia Morgan, Caleigh Eubanks, Emma Reynolds, Lauryn Wilson, Shelby Aiken and Megan and Morgan Coleman, and Wingate -- are a formidable foundation for the future.
“Over the course of the season, I thought we got better,” Trzaska said. “I’d always tell (the players), our potential is so high. I think they slowly started climbing toward it.”