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Wildcats clinch spot in tourney with win over rival South Effingham
RHHS Wildcats

Thanks to Leighton Finley’s pitching and Ethan Fuller’s hitting Richmond Hill clinched a spot in the Class 6A state baseball playoffs with a 7-3 over South Effingham Monday night in the opener of a crucial Region 2-6A series.

The teams met Wednesday night at Richmond Hill and will conclude regular season play Friday night at South Effingham. State tournament play starts next week.

Thanks to Finley’s sterling four-hitter and Fuller’s three RBI night the Wildcats are in the playoffs for the 12th straight year – there was no tournament in 2020 due to COVID – and could earn a No. 1 seed with a sweep of the Mustangs.

The win was the streaking Wildcats’ (19-7, 11-5) fifth straight and enabled them to move into a tie for first with Glynn Academy (20-7, 11-5). Effingham County (13-15, 10-6) and the Mustangs (20-8, 10-6) are a game back and Statesboro (15-12, 8-8) is all but eliminated.

The victory pushed Finley’s record to 10-0 on the season, one shy of the school record 11 set by Mike Menhart (11-2) in 2017 when the Wildcats made a run to the Elite Eight. Finley picked up two wins last week in a sweep of Statesboro.

Richmond Hill stunned the Mustangs when it struck for four runs in the first inning and pushed the lead to 7-0 with a run in the second and two more in the fourth.

Finley dominated in the early going, retiring the first nine batters he faced. The Mustangs finally got to the big righthander for a pair of runs in fourth and one in the sixth but the hole was too deep to dig out of.

“Any time you jump a good team with Leighton on the mound you can’t let up,” Coach Chris Jenkins said. “This is just one game. Anything can still happen.”

Finley led off the game with a ringing double down the left field line and after Luke Boone flew out to left he scored on Evan Cowan’s single. Fuller followed with a double to deep left center to easily score Cowan.

Gavin Martin followed with double to score Cowan and he scored on Connor Truax’s twoout double which made it 4-0. When Hunter Legas went down on strikes the Wildcats had sent nine men to the plate and banged out six hits.

“It’s a confidence boost,” Finley said of the first inning outburst. “When your team gets up like that to start the game it lifts me up and we play better.”

Fuller had a two-run single in the fourth to give him a team high 19 RBI for the season. Finley finished with eight strikeouts to push his season total to 89 in 55.1 innings. When he singled in the fifth it was his first three-hit game of the season.

The Wildcats looked to be in trouble in the region race when it was stunned by Bradwell Institute, 8-6, but has since rebounded with a win at Savannah Christian followed by three wins over Statesboro to put themselves in position to win a tight region race.

The wins over the Blue Devils featured good pitching and timely hitting.

Finley won the opener, 4-2, and Legas (5-3) then posted a 10-0 shutout to set up the sweep which was completed when Connor Truax, who doubled to leadoff the ninth inning, scored when the Blue Devils booted Tyler Fountain’s bunt for a 5-4 walkoff win.

In addition to the Wildcats the Terrors and Effingham are also assured of post season berths while South Effingham needs a win or a loss by Statesboro to advance. The order of finish won’t be determined until Friday’s games are completed.

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