The Eastside Eagles baseball team’s storybook season came to an end on May 16, when it was defeated by No.1 ranked Buford Wolves in the Class AAAA Final Four of the State Playoffs. This was the Eagles’ first trip to the Final Four since moving to Class AAAA.
The Eagles finished the season with an overall record of 23-11 and a 12-4 record in the 4-AAAA region. “We set goals for what was coming up,” Eagles coach Bruce Evans said. “We wanted to have a good season before the region play started.”
That is a feat that the Eagles would successfully accomplish by going 11-7 in non-region play. However, the Eagles finished in third place in the region at the end of the regular season behind Locust Grove (16-0) and Spalding (13-3), making their final four berth that much more impressive.
The Eagles were led on the mound mostly throughout the season by Gray Ritchey, Charlie Greenich and Josh Sims. They were led on offense by Nick Womack, who had a .364 batting average, and Connor Hewell, who batted a .336 average and drove in 34 RBI. Womack was also named the Offensive Player of the Year for the Eagles, and Austin Holloway was named as the Defensive Player of the Year.
Evans said that the most overwhelming and best part about the season was the outpour of support from Newton County as a whole. “The whole town got behind us,” Evans said. “Teachers, administrators and even the superintendent were out at the games. It was all of that support that I believe was the most overwhelming part of the season.”
This even includes Alcovy High School and Newton High School, which are the two inner county rivals. “I would receive calls or texts from the coaches saying congratulations and best of luck the rest of the way,” Evans said.
Evans said that he believes the turning point of the season for the Eagles came during their first round series at Cairo when the team had to overcome some adversity.
“We had some key guys injured and a starting pitcher,” Evans said. “We had to go through some adversity, and we were able to pull through. After beating them in that series, I believe our guys knew that anything was possible and that there was nothing that they couldn’t accomplish.”
The Eagles would then proceed to defeat Madison County and St. Pius X Catholic in the playoffs before falling short to Buford.
Despite losing many players to graduation, Evans believes that the nucleus of players returning to the program next season will continue to lead the team in the forward direction; however, he does have one main concern.
“The hardest part of next year will be finding some pitchers who can hold teams to at least four to five runs,” Evans said.
Sims will be returning to the program as a position player and pitcher for the Eagles next season, but they will be losing Ritchey, Greenich and Womack, who would even go to the mound and pitch for the Eagles at times.
However, Evans believes that with the core of returning players and the upcoming younger players, the Eagles will pick up right where they left off.
“I think the players are going to be motivated to come back quicker and stronger and get in the weight room,” Evans said. “I believe our veterans are going to be able to lead our young guys and put the team on their back.”
Evans said that one of the high points of the season for him is that there was never a moment that he believed this team would lose.
“I wish we were still playing,” Evans said. “I never went to practice or a game thinking our season would end that day. I can’t say that about a lot of teams during my coaching career.”