Purists would say the game was not pretty but don’t try telling that to Richmond Hill baseball coach Chris Jenkins and his gritty band of Wildcats.
To them last Friday’s 7-6 win over South Effingham was nothing short of beautiful.
When Connor Truax settled under Aaron Benton’s lazy fly ball to left it set off a wild celebration at the pitcher’s mound that was seven years in the making.
The win, completing a three-game sweep of the Mustangs was Richmond Hill’s seventh straight and clinched the Region 2-6A region championship. It was only the school’s second region title, the first coming in 2015.
Richmond Hill (21-7, 13-5) entered the GHSA Class 6A state playoffs as a No. 1 seed meaning it will have the opportunity to play at least the first two rounds at home. The Wildcats open at 4 p.m. Wednesday with a doubleheader against Lakeside DeKalb (18-7). The third game if needed would be played Thursday at a time to be determined.
In a game marred by 12 errors, nine by South Effingham, the Wildcats snapped a 6-6 tie in the top of the seventh when Ethan Fuller was hit by a pitch leading off, moved to second on a passed ball and then scored when Gavin Martin’s hot shot went through the shortstop’s legs.
Leighton Finley, who came on in relief with one out and two on in the bottom of the sixth, saw the Mustangs tie it, 6-6, on an error and single before getting the next two hitters.
Finley easily retired the side in order in the seventh to set off a wild celebration. In getting the win Finley upped his record to 11-0 which tied Mike Menhart’s (11-2) school record set in 2017.
Joining the Wildcats in the state playoffs will be Bryan County High School (16-7, 9-5) which swept McIntosh County Academy, 5-4 and 9-5, to earn its first playoff berth since 2016. The Redskins tied Claxton for second in the Region 3A Public standings but will go on the road as a No. 3 seed as the Tigers held the tiebreaker advantage.
Coach Justin Covington’s team will play a doubleheader at Pataula Charter Academy at 4 p.m. on Friday. If a third game is needed it will be played Saturday at a time to be determined.
The last two weeks have, Coach Chris Jenkins said, showed his team’s mettle.
Following a stunning loss to Bradwell Institute the Wildcats were in fifth-place and still to face South Effingham and Statesboro. Then came two sweeps which led to a championship.
“There’s no quit in these guys,” Jenkins said. “It would have been easy for them to hang their heads after they lost to Bradwell but they didn’t.
“We had two losses to start the season and then that stretch in the middle but there was no quit. They played hard from the first pitch.”
After Finley, who had three hits including two doubles, beat the Mustangs 7-3 in the opener behind Fuller’s three RBI night the middle game was all Hunter Legas (6-3).
Legas pitched a four-hitter and Boone and Truax each drove in two runs in a 6-0 win. Legas had blanked Statesboro, 10-0, the previous week and now has a string of 15.1 scoreless innings.
In the clincher knowing it had to win—Glynn Academy also finished 13-5 in region play but the Wildcats held the tiebreaker--Richmond Hill scored four times in the second inning without the benefit of a base hit, added two in the fifth and ended it in the seventh. All seven runs were unearned.