If Thursday afternoon proved anything for Statesboro baseball, it’s that 2017 simply isn’t their year.
After 12 games of winless baseball, the 10-5 loss to South Effingham exhibited the same problems that have plagued Statesboro all season. If wasn’t leaving the bases loaded to end an inning, it was the perfectly placed bloopers and ground balls in the second inning that led to a South Effingham six-spot. In essence Thursday’s game summarized what 2017 has been for the Blue Devils — simply frustrating.
“This game we hit the ball a little bit better, but it’s the consistent inconsistencies that’s really bothered us this year,” said head coach Jim Simmons. “I don’t have a magic pill for us, but what they have done well is show up every day thinking that this will be the day they break the streak, which isn’t easy to do.”
It’s not as if Statesboro has faced a gauntlet schedule either. South Effingham, Effingham County, Wayne and Ware County aren’t exactly juggernauts in terms of GHSA baseball — however the latter three schools all swept Statesboro. So what is the issue exactly?
The common denominator appears to be the offense. Before Tuesday’s 7-6 loss to the Mustangs, Statesboro hadn’t scored more than four runs since March 17 against Effingham County. As a matter of fact the last time their offense really seemed to have any life at all was the last series they won against Richmond Hill, where the Blue Devils scored 30 runs combined in three games against the Wildcats.
Since their 9-8 loss to Richmond Hill on March 10, Statesboro has scored just 24 runs in their last 11 games. It’s not as if the team is at a loss of talented upperclassmen either. Davis Wiggins, Ty Tidick and Dylan Irizarry all came in with high expectations this season at the plate, but it could be the loss of 13 seniors from last season that’s really doing in the Blue Devils in.
“Last year I’d say we were stronger offensively than this year,” Simmons said. “But as young players you tend to press more at the plate, which can change your approach from game to game and that may be part of what’s getting to us.”
The same was the case in game two of the South Effingham series. Up until the bottom of the fifth inning, Statesboro struggled to put the ball in play and were relying purely on the inaccuracies of Mustang pitching and the occasional error to put runners on base. Before the bottom of the fifth Statesboro only had two hits — all of the other base runners came via four walks and an error.
But it was in that frame Statesboro finally found the offensive life it so dearly missed throughout this tough season. A fifth inning rally started off with singles by Austin Daniels and Ty Tidick to put runners on the corners with one out. Irizarry then popped a deep ball to centerfield to bring in courtesy runner Zach Pendegrass home to break up what was then an 8-0 South Effingham lead.
After a walk to put two men on again for the Blue Devils, Dalton Ross and Cam Harvey knocked back-to-back doubles off the left-centerfield wall to drive in two runs each. Wright Rockett would get in on the fun by singling in Harvey to make it 8-5, but Blake Stanford’s pop-out to right field would finally put a cap on the biggest inning Statesboro’s had in nearly a month.
“This series our bats we’ve started to hit with much more consistency,” Simmons said. “It’s helped our confidence and I think it’ll do us good as we finish things up here.”
Had starting pitcher Austin Kleinlein not been ground-balled to death in the second inning, Statesboro might have been looking at a different result in Thursday’s game. Of the six hits the senior gave up in the top of the second, four were ground ball singles — each one perfectly placed between infielders. Independent of fielding, Kleinlein’s FIP was 2.04 — much lower than his regular ERA on the night of 12.25. When you really dive into the stats Kleinlein threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, averaged 3.4 pitches per batter faced and only allowed one walk. All in all Kleinlein fell victim to ill-placed ground balls and three errors by his defense.
“The most consistent thing we’ve done all year is pitch,” Simmons said. “Austin was doing a real good job hitting the zone today, but it was just a double of two-strike doubles that did him in tonight.”
On offense, Harvey would lead the way with a 2-4 night at the plate with a double, two RBI and a run scored. Ross, Irizary and Rockett would each contribute an RBI as well, but the sore spot for Statesboro will be the nine runners they left on base on the night.
Statesboro (5-18, 0-8) will look to at least salvage the series with South Effingham (12-9, 6-2) tonight in Guyton at 6:00 p.m.