Eastside completed a sweep of Spalding in a doubleheader at home on Thursday to give the Eagles a shot at obtaining a No. 3 seed in the state playoffs at minimum. With the weirdly constructed way Eastside’s region is set up, despite going 15-3 in Region 4-AAAA, the Eagles will likely be the No. 4 seed forcing them to travel to play Wayne County in the first round of the state playoffs.
“I feel like we’re a whole lot better than a fourth place team, but it’s out of our hands. We had one bad week. We’ve only lost in the region one week,” Bruce Evans, Eagles’ head baseball coach, said.
Eastside will finish tied with Pike County for the second best record in the region, yet the Eagles won’t have the opportunity to host their own playoff game. Still, Eastside came to play against Spalding, showing the Wayne County scouts that were in attendance why the Eagles shouldn’t be looked as a pushover or a normal No. 4 seed.
The Eagles won the first game 4-2 and the second 15-4 to complete the series sweep. Both games convey just how good the Eagles are in the way they win.
Charlie Greenich pitched the first game and went all seven innings and allowed just two hits while throwing six K’s. However, Greenich did walk four batters and he hit two, both of which are two things Evans doesn’t like as a head coach. He considered sitting Greenich around the fifth inning for Gray Ritchie, who would inevitably start the second game, but Evans stuck with him and Greenich rewarded him.
Eastside hit the ball all over the place throughout the night, but in the first game against Spalding’s ace pitcher, the Eagles left six runners stranded on base which is an area they’ll have to improve if they’re going to make any noise in the playoffs.
Spalding couldn’t hit Greenich, forcing its coach to manufacture hits by bunting, but most of them if not all of them were fielded by third baseman Nick Womack for the easy out, who played excellent defensively in both games.
“I feel like Womack’s one of the best high school third basemen that I’ve seen so if they want to bunt it to him, I’m OK with that,” Evans said confidently.
After taking a 4-2 lead through four innings, Greenich held Spalding scoreless the rest of the way and the Eagles got the win.
In the second game Eastside put a stranglehold on the contest early by jumping out to a 6-0 lead after two and a half innings.
Austin Kerbow opened up the game with a two-RBI shot between first and second to score Jared Jones and Josh Sims. Later in the inning, Jake Jones avoided a tag to bring in Hunter Ballard on the RBI-single. The Eagles finished the first inning up 3-0 and added three more runs at the top of the second and third innings.
Then the Eagles got complacent with a comfortable lead and one of their best pitchers if not the best in Ritchie on the mound. Spalding got on the board quickly with some help due to errors on Eastside’s behalf. By the bottom of the fourth inning the Jaguars had shortened Eastside’s lead to two runs.
With one out and two runners in scoring position Evans called for Ballard to come in and pitch. Ballard walked the first batter to load the bases and struck out the second before letting his defense make a play to get the third batter out. It didn’t count as a save, but that’s essentially what he did.
“I can’t say enough about that kid right there coming in with second and third and one out,” Evans said. “I don’t remember how it went down, but I know two batters came up and he got both of ‘em out. That was a huge momentum swing for us.”
Facing the their third pitcher of the game, in the sixth inning the Eagles showed their dominance and scored nine runs to build a 15-4 lead.
“They threw a lot of pitches at us that were away and throughout this year we’ve been trying to pull those pitches. We had a long talk this week and before this game started and I said, ‘Look, let’s not wait three innings to decide to start hitting this ball to right field. Let’s go ahead and give him that pitch out there that we want to hit.’ We want to hit what you want to throw,” Evans said. “We know what they’re trying to throw to us, let’s just be willing to hit that pitch and go up there and look for that pitch and hit it the other way. And, man, we did it.”
Jared Jones, Sims and Austin Holloway started off the inning with hits that loaded the bases. Womack struck out next and then Kerbow poked a two-strike two-RBI hit to left that scored Sims and Jared Jones. Jake Jones would bring in Austin after an error allowed Chase Raines to get to base, who had a pretty good series offensively, and loaded the bases.
Justin Moore came in to pinch hit for Connor Hewell and he went down swinging, giving Eastside two outs for the inning with a 9-4 lead. But the Eagles weren’t done.
Ballard blasted a shot to center for a two-RBI single scoring Kerbow and Raines putting runners at the corners. Jared Jones would hit a double-RBI to score his twin Jake Jones and Sims got walked on his at-bat, loading the bases. Holloway dropped a blooper in center to score Ballard and Jake Jones. Womack added the final run of the inning with a hit that brought in Sims to give the Eagles their sixth run of the inning with two outs.
“We’ve made it a big point that we can not go down easy. We want to hit line drives and we want to make them get us out. Tonight we were saying in the dugout ‘put it on the next guy.’ Let’s see who’s gonna make that out. So they were kind of challenging each other,” Evans said of his team’s ability to keep hitting/scoring with two outs on the board. “They just fed off each other and nobody wanted to make it (the last out). It was a heck of an inning.”
“What they did was they turned their motor back on. We had that motor on the whole first game,” Evans said speaking on his team’s sixth inning scoring binge. “In the second game we got six runs and we turned it off. That inning (the sixth inning) they turned it back on. They saw an opportunity to go for the kill and they went for it. That’s what we gotta have, that killer instinct.”
The Eagles got the mercy rule win after holding Spalding scoreless in the bottom of the inning. At their best, the Eagles can play with anybody in the state and if they can do it for an entire series going forward they could make a deep playoff run.