South Effingham High School

Mustangs run out of rallies

Game 3 loss ends season for South Effingham

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May 18, 2016

By Patrick Donahue

Their playoff run marked with comeback victories, the South Effingham Mustangs couldn’t muster one last rally needed to make the Class AAAAA state baseball championship.

The Loganville Red Devils turned 6-4-3 double play to end the game, the series and the Mustangs’ season in a 5-3 Game 3 victory last Wednesday at The Corral. Loganville’s win, after the Red Devils took the opener 5-4 and the Mustangs prevailed 5-1 in the second game, denied South Effingham its first appearance in a state championship series.

Houston County beat Loganville 12-0 Tuesday in the third game of the Class AAAAA state finals to win a second championship in three years.

“The team that refuses to lose is just hard to beat; it doesn’t matter what you’re playing, said Mustangs coach Ron Womack after his team finished at 23-12. “And they just refuse to go down without putting up a fight. That helped with the comebacks many times. There was no doubt in my mind it was fixing to happen again, because we’ve seen it so many times. I’ve seen it for three years from this senior group. It just didn’t fall our way. That’s baseball.

Though the Mustangs didn’t have to log more than 1,600 miles this year — as they did in last year’s quarterfinals appearance — their path this year may have been equally as treacherous. They faced three ranked teams in Jones County, Winder-Barrow and Loganville. Their four opponents in the state playoffs had a combined record of 94-20 prior to their series with the Mustangs.

“South Effingham’s got a bunch of warriors over there, Red Devils coach Jeff Segars said. “Those guys are tough as nails. We knew that this thing was going to be very, very difficult. They hit some balls well and we made some plays. Both teams did. We found a couple of holes than they did. Both these teams are champions. I’m just real proud of our guys.

Loganville led from the start, when catcher Morgan Copeland, who has committed to the University of Tennessee, led off the game with a home run. Marcellus Campbell’s infield single brought in another run for a quick 2-0 lead before Ryan English took the mound.

“It was huge, Segars said of the leadoff homer and big first inning. “In this type of environment, against this type of team, I thought was huge for our team. I was hoping for a fast start. That’s why for a Game 3, I don’t mind being the visitors. If you get off to a fast start, you put more pressure on the other team.

It was Copeland’s second go-ahead homer of the season, his first coming on a grand slam in the first game, a 5-4 Red Devils win.

Copeland’s sacrifice fly in the second inning pushed the lead to 3-0. Starting pitcher Ryan English, ordinarily the Red Devils closer, faced just one over the minimum through the first three innings.

Tyler Pullum beat out a chopper to the hole at short and after he stole second base, cleanup hitter Turner Davis blistered a single down the left-field line. Pullum raced around third and scored for South Effingham’s first run.

Campbell’s single to left brought in another run, and Luke McCann was summoned to replace Mustangs starting pitcher with one out in the fifth.

Hodges made the most of his next turn at-bat in the bottom of the fifth. He took a two-strike pitch from English and launched a two-run missile over the scoreboard behind the right-field fence. His two-run shot brought the Mustangs within 4-3.

For a team that was down to its last strike against Jones County, lost the first game in its series against Forsyth Central and came from behind in both wins over Winder-Barrow, Hodges’ blast spurred thoughts of another stirring comeback.

“As soon as the ball goes out of the yard, I was thinking, ‘here it comes,’ Womack said. “It just didn’t happen.

“I saw that ball come off the bat, and I knew it was gone, said starting shortstop Austin Thompson, who was on base for the homer and went 2-for-4. “I was pumped. I thought that could be the turning point.

Lee’s RBI single to left in the top of the sixth pushed the lead back to two runs for the Red Devils.

While Loganville got clutch hits, the defense also shined. Lee leaped to stab Pullum’s liner headed to right field in the first. Caldwell robbed Pullum of a hit in the fifth, going to his knees to snare Pullum’s sinking liner. Dalton Griffin was robbed of a hit in the sixth with Bryce Fowler’s diving catch in right. English also fielded three comebackers.

“They’ve got a great offense, Segars said of the Mustangs. “They’ve been coming back all year. That tells you about their team and their character. We had to make plays, and we did.

The Mustangs also got help from their defense when second baseman Caleb Gonsalves knocked down Campbell’s grounder and from a prone position flipped to Thompson to start a double play. Mustangs senior K.C. Brown turned Gabe Knight’s liner into an inning-ending double play in the top of the seventh.

After Thompson lined a one-out single in the bottom of the inning, Pullum followed with a hard ground ball.

But shortstop Cody Mixon gobbled it up and started the game-ending, series-ending and season-ending double play.

“Even in the first inning, when we went down 2-0, there was not one point where I thought we weren’t going to come back, Hodges said. “I knew we were going to fight every inning and try our hardest to make it a game, and we sure did. We tried our best to make it a game. We didn’t go down without a fight, and that’s what Coach Womack preaches.

The play also was the final one for nine Mustangs seniors and the last for Womack.

“I look back and it was a heckuva season, said Thompson, the junior shortstop who went 21-for-43 with 13 RBIs in the playoffs. “At the end of the day, I feel like we may have been the better team, but they got the lucky end of the stick today.

The Mustangs are losing their starting outfield — Pullum in left, center fielder Dalton Griffin, and Hodges and backup Luke McCann in right — plus third baseman K.C. Brown, Gonsalves and catcher Turner Davis, who had two homers and 10 RBIs in the postseason. Also graduating is key reserve Shane Sites.

“Brotherhood is what we take from it, said Hodges, who was 10-for-35 with 10 RBIs in the playoffs. “A lot of us have been together since we were 6, 7, 8 years old. We’ve played together. It’s a brotherhood. I love every single one of these guys out here. We ended on a good run.

Whoever succeeds Womack will have Thompson, the leadoff hitter, back at short and Davis Hare, who had two wins on the mound, including a four-hit shutout, in the playoffs.

“It’s a great group of kids, Womack said. “A great group of kids. They’ve got a nucleus to build around next year. Some young guys got to see a little bit of time in key spots. They’ll be ready. It will take them some time, but they’ll be ready.

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