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March 20, 2017 10:38 a.m.

Eastside baseball's sights now set on Woodward Academy

Submitted Photo | The Covington News/

Erik Shirley prepares for an at-bat during Eastside's series sweep of North Clayton last week. Eastside coach Bruce Evans will be looking for consistency from his bats in a pivotal series this week with region-leading Woodward Academy.

RIVERDALE  – No offense to North Clayton, but the biggest suspense surrounding Eastside and North Clayton’s baseball series this past week was whether or not the cold snap would prevent the games from being played.

After having one game in the three-game Region 4-AAAA series cancelled last week due to an untimely resurgence of winter temperatures, Eastside would travel to North Clayton Friday and make it all up in a fairly non-eventful doubleheader.

Eastside run-ruled North Clayton in all three of its games, including a 15-0 win Thursday at home, and then 15-0 and 16-0 wins at North Clayton on Friday afternoon. Perhaps the best part of the three-game sweep was the fact that Eastside emerged without any new injuries, and also got some guys some valuable playing time.

“You don’t really have a true gauge when you’re playing a team in that kind of game,” Eastside coach Bruce Evans said. “I’m not taking anything away from them, but they just don’t have a lot of baseball players. But what was encouraging was that we went there and took care of business, and did what we were supposed to do. We didn’t go play on their level. We played on ours, and that was good to see.”

Particularly with Region 4-AAAA top dog Woodward Academy coming to town on Monday evening to start a pivotal three-game region series. The Eagles have been a little dinged up, particularly on the mound with guys like Riley Ralston and Ryan Shirley nursing what Evans called “minor injuries.” But against North Clayton, it was guys like Josh Sims and Michael Hipps getting an opportunity to see some pitching action.

Sims and Hipps played well against North Clayton during the Friday doubleheader, with Sims pitching a shutout in game one, and Hipps recording a one-hitter in the rubber match. The success of that pitching duo worked to assuage some of Evans’ concerns, heading into the highly anticipated matchup with Woodward.

“My biggest concern coming into Woodward was some of those pitching injuries that occurred,” Evans said. “I looked around and saw we were getting thin on the mound. But then Josh came in and threw a solid game and got back into on the mound, and then we got the chance to get Michael some work. He kept the ball down and worked with a little quicker delivery. Cole Green came in and threw real good as well.”

Evans called Ralston day to day, and said that after giving Ryan Shirley some rest, he expects him to be ready to go Monday at 5:55 p.m. when Woodward comes to Eastside for the first game of the series.

And Evans wasn’t shy about how much his bunch has looked forward to this game.

“Man, it’s huge,” he said. “That’s just the team we’ve had marked on the calendar since back in January. We’ve got a bullseye on them, and I’m sure it’s the same for them with us. We came into this season with no fantasies that we’d be able to get through the region on top without having to go through these guys.”

Evans called Woodward (8-3 overall, 3-0 in Region 4-AAAA) “just a solid baseball team,” and said his Eagles would be hard pressed to find one better on its regular season schedule. Both squads made deep runs in the Class AAAA playoffs last year, with Eastside making the Final Four before being halted by Buford, and Woodward achieving an Elite Eight berth.

And Eastside’s third-year coach knows what his Eagles (12-2 overall, 5-1 in Region 4-AAAA) will have to do in order to be successful against them.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “We’re gonna have to hit well, pitch well, run bases well. We’re gonna have to do it all well to win some ball games against them. The worst case scenario with us is that we come out with two wins. If we can get all three, that’s icing on the cake. But we can’t go in and lose two, because then we’ll probably be relegated to second in the region. But I think we’re ready for the challenge.”

Evans thinks the fans are, also. He lauded Eastside’s fans, calling them some of the best whether at home or on the road, but also saying that the playing two of the three games at home will be huge.

“I expect our crowd to be there and to be loud and in the game as they always are,” he said. “When we step into that kind of atmosphere, it feels like the whole world is with us and on our side. Plus being at home, we’re familiar with the mound, with the ground balls and their reaction on our field. We’ll just be more comfortable.”

Evans’ last words of advice for folks wanting to take in this game in person: Get there early.

“I’ve gotten some calls from other coaches who said they wish they weren’t playing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so they could be there themselves,” Evans said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere for high school baseball.”

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