By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — South Effingham’s baseball team needed a momentum swing in a three-game series that was in the process of going horribly wrong against rival Effingham County. Senior Zach Wert provided that swing.
Wert’s grand slam turned around Game 2, boosted confidence for Game 3 and put the Mustangs back in the running for a second-straight Region 2-AAAAAA championship heading into the final week of the regular season.
SEHS (20-7, 10-5 Region 2-AAAAAA) will begin a three-game series with the Richmond Hill Wildcats on Monday in a four-team deadlock with Richmond Hill, Glynn Academy and Effingham County for first place in the region.
The second game between the Mustangs and Wildcats is Wedmesdau in Richmond Hill with the finale scheduled for Friday at South Effingham.
“We’ll worry about (all scenarios) later,” said SEHS coach Todd Eubanks on Friday night after his squad roared back to win the final two games of the series with the Rebels. “Right now, we’re three-time Effingham County champs and the third time feels as good as the first time.”
The series also generated a poignant moment for Wert and the South Effingham baseball family. Zach’s father Todd Wert died of an illness in the fall.
“When Zach came up to bat (April 13), I was thinking, this is for Todd,” Eubanks said. “To win a game is always special, but for Zach to have that moment — that’s nice.”
Zach’s grand slam eased a 10-8 Game 1 loss and erased a 5-2 sixth-inning deficit in Game 2.
“I know (my dad) would be proud,” said Zach, who thought he had only sent a lazy flyball to left field, possibly ending a Mustangs rally.
He said he almost started walking to the dugout after rounding first base.
“Then I saw everybody at home plate,” Zach said. “I don’t know. My body went numb. I got to home plate and I don’t remember getting back to the dugout. I think I was carried back to the dugout, basically. I lost my shoe. There was a lot going on.”
After that swing, a lot of positives followed. South finished Game 2 with an 8-5 win and captured Game 3 7-2.
“Our kids battled and competed,” Eubanks said. “They got their noses bloodied (in the first game) but came back. There was some doubt on what they were going to do. But the people in this dugout knew what they were going to do.”
The series win set the stage for a rematch of last year’s mega series against Richmond Hill, when the Mustangs won the decisive third game 1-0 to claim the region crown.
Richmond Hill has see-sawed its way through a 10-5 region record and 18-7 overall in 2022. The Wildcats seemingly scraped bottom with an 8-6 loss to Bradwell Institute on April Fool’s Day.
But only a fool would have counted Richmond Hill out. The Wildcats, who were ranked fourth in Class AAAAAA by Score Atlanta less than a month ago, recovered to sweep a three-game set from Statesboro last week.
Statesboro, in fifth place in the region, still has a chance to make the state playoffs (four teams from the region will advance) but is two games behind and needs some help.
With future playoff scenarios swirling, Eubanks didn’t want to lose sight of the memorable and emotional week playing ECHS.
“It’s great baseball, great fan support,” Eubanks said. “We’re on spring break and the stands were still packed. It’s good when the Rebels and Mustangs get together and play some ball. It’s nice to have a series like this to hopefully send both of us off to the (state) playoffs.”