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Young guns
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That will be the biggest difference between the 2008 Eastside varsity baseball team and last year's squad.

But despite losing nine seniors, Eastside head coach Michael Poor does not have any major concerns or worries entering play.

"Actually, all things considered we don't look that bad," said Poor, who enters his second season as head skipper of the Eagles. "It's made a big difference having everyone been under me for one year. I haven't had to go through and make any major radical adjustments like last year. Everyone from the ninth grade team to my seniors has all pretty much fallen into what we're trying to do."

In turn, it's made practices run much smoother and has helped Poor and his coaching staff's assessment of the team become a lot easier to do. Currently the Eagles have been running two practices per day, which will certainly help since their first game is in six days.

"The big thing that stands out the most is just (being) a little bit more flexible," said Poor regarding what he has learned after a full season under his belt. "I'm listening to my players a lot more this year, listening to their ideas and trying to incorporate those. I'm being more flexible with my players in general, using straight open lines of communication."

During his inaugural year at the helm, Poor did a commendable job of turning the program around. In 2006, the Eagles were winless in Region 8-AAAA South play, finishing dead last in the 10-team league.

But last year Eastside was a respectable 12-13 overall with an 11-13 region record.

Of course, that was with the help of former upper classmen Luke Baker, Quint Hinton, Brandon Kinard, Travis Long, Tyler Long, Clay Prickett, Ryan Rhodes, Ryan Roton and Nick White.

Five of those players (Hinton, Travis Long, Tyler Long, Prickett and Ryan Rhodes) were selected to the 2007 All-County Baseball Team. Each batted over .300 and combined for 91 RBIs, 10 home runs and 90 runs scored.

This year, however, marks a different breed of birds. In fact, one-third of the Eagles are freshmen and sophomores.

"As young as they are, they're very talented and very gifted athletes," said Poor. "We're just going to put them on the varsity level and let them learn at the higher level right away, and I think they're more than capable of doing that. It's going to be a confidence issue there for a little bit probably, but once they get accustomed to it they're just going to absolutely thrive.

"It helps the older guys, too," added Poor. "They are feeding off their energy because those guys are pumped up and ready to go."

Senior first baseman Kyle Durand is set to have a breakout year. More importantly he will help provide leadership on and off the field for the Eagles.

"He's going to carry a load with his bat this year and pick up the slack at first base," said Poor. "He's been working really hard on his mechanics (and) has done a really good job filling in the hole."

Senior outfielders Jared Trust and Tim Roton also return to fill the void left by Hinton and Baker.

Sophomores Bobby Coggins, Cameron Davenport and Jerome Ivey will each play an integral role on the Eastside pitching staff this season.

"I'm not overly concerned," said Poor of his rotation. "We lost some pitchers, but I've brought back some good quality pitching that was hiding in my junior varsity and ninth grade programs."

Freshmen Sam Johnson (outfield) and Travis Marks (infield) are also expected to see significant playing time.

Roton (.397 average, 16 RBIs and 21 runs) and Coggins (3-0 record, 3.07 earned run average and 12 strikeouts) are the only returning players selected to the 2007 All-County squad.

"Just about every ballgame is going to be an absolute fight," acknowledged Poor. "Some teams will take it for granted knowing how much we lost, and the rest of the region really didn't lose anything. We're not going to get a break, but these guys fight real hard all the time. They're very scrappy. That's probably the one thing I'd say about this group - they just keep clawing away and fighting. If they do that they're going to surprise some big teams this year."

No doubt it should be quite a learning situation for the Eagles this season, making it the perfect opportunity to improve on the diamond.

"I want them to learn the game of baseball and play it the way it should be played, always," noted Poor. "My No. 1 goal for them, from the ninth grade program to my varsity program, is to learn the proper way to play baseball (and) have respect for the game. If they play it with that respect it deserves they're going to be better ballplayers because of it."

Eastside opens the season at Ola beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.