To say Eastside baseball (10-2, 6-0 Region 4-AAAA) – led by first-year head coach Bruce Evans – is on a roll would be an understatement. After losing their first two games of the season, the Eagles have won 10 in a row and they’re booming on offense.
Through their last 10 games the Eagles have scored a combined 104 runs scoring less than 10 runs per game on just three occassions.
“We’ve just been destroying people, hitting,” Evans said. “When I got here, Mr. [Jeff] Cher, when I was in the interview he said, “What area is your strength in baseball?” I said, “Hitting.” He said, “You good at hitting?” I said, “Yeah I’m good at hitting.” He said, “Well we can’t hit.” I said, “OK. Good.” Then he hired me I said, “We’ll hit now.”
“My strengths always been hitting. We’re gonna hit. I’m not gonna have a team that ain’t hitting,” Evans said.
And hit they have. Not only are the Eagles putting the bat on the ball, but they’re playing terrific defense as well. During the streak only two teams have scored more than three runs. Rockdale had eight runs in the 10-8 loss to begin Eastside’s run of dominance and Jonesboro mounted four runs in a 16-4 thrashing earlier in the week.
Evans specialty may be hitting, but he knows deep down it takes good defense and good pitching to win games. He doesn’t mention defense much to his players in effort to keep the pressure off, and so far the strategy is paying off.
Eastside struggled in its first two games as Evans and the team adjusted to each other, but the Eagles hit their stride after a 13-7 loss to Evans’ close friend, Rockdale head baseball coach Jonathan Brewer. The win that followed the Eagles’ last loss was Evans’ 100th career win as a head coach.
“It’s hard to put a finger on one thing,” Evans said when asked about the key to the Eagles’ recent dominance. “Obviously we’re hitting the ball good. Our pitchers are doing a good job and our defense is playing really well, too. It’s kind of a combination of all that. The first two games of the year I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me. We had some kids in different places. We had to figure out where they would help us best on defense and put nine hitters in the lineup. I think we’ve got a pretty good combination right now. It seems to be working well.”
“The good thing and the biggest thing going on with us right now is our team has gelled. They care about each other. They’re together as a team. Our coaches, our players and everybody is on the same page. They pull for their teammates as hard as they pull for their self, and that’s been the key,” Evans said proudly. “When you get ‘em loving each other and playing hard for each other it always develops into good things.”
An even better thing about the Eagles play is that they’ve been doing it without some of their best pitchers, as they’ve been dealing with an array of injuries forcing other players like Brantley Proffitt, Hunter Ballard and Charlie Greenich to step up and pitch.
“We were forced to throw some other guys and make them get better. Whereas if we would’ve had those pitchers back then we might have leaned on them a lot and not developed those other guys like we should. It’s probably going to help us in the long run,” Evan said.
The Eagles are about to play much tougher competition as they get deeper into region play, and the deeper their team is the better they will be. Eagles’ ace Gray Ritchie is slowly coming back from a shoulder injury, but he’s been pitching some in games recently. Ritchie threw for three innings in a 4-3 win against a Griffin (9-5, 4-1 Region 4-AAAA) team that was previously undefeated in region play on Friday.
Griffin has a stud, senior third baseman Cornelius Randolph, who is projected as a top-15 pick in the MLB draft. They also have a sophomore, who’s getting lots of attention from scouts already. That didn’t matter when Eastside took the field on Friday.Griffin was probably Eastside’s toughest competition to date, but they answered the bell.
The AJC ranked Eastside 10th in the state in Class AAAA last week. They play the No. 3 ranked team – Locust Grove – on that list Monday at home. There are currently four teams undefeated in Region 4-AAAA: Eastside, Locust Grove, Walnut Grove and Pike County. With Eastside playing Locust Grove on Tuesday and Pike and Walnut Grove matching up on Tuesday, by Wednesday there should be just two undefeated teams left in the region.
“We’ve got to continue to do what we been doing. Obviously we’ve got to get a good pitching performance. We gotta play good on defense and not make any errors,” Evans said. “But the No. 1 thing is we’ve got to hit the ball because Locust Grove’s got a good pitching staff. They’ve got good hitters and they’ve got a real solid defense. They’re not going to give up anything. You’re not going to be able to hit a ground ball at short and expect them to make an error and give you a base. We’ve got to hit line drives and we’ve got to hit balls in the gap and drive people in when they get on base. Then we’ve got to execute all the little things – execute our bunts and everything we gotta do. You don’t beat teams like that by coming out there sloppy.”