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PREP BASEBALL: Eagles ready to take flight in new region
Eastside Baseball
After clashing with Woodward Academy at the top of the league for the past few years, Eastside has moved into one of the most daunting regions in the state. The Eagles will brush shoulders with state powers Loganville and Greenbrier. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — Eastside is venturing into uncharted territory in 2021.

After residing in Region 4-AAAA for the past six seasons, the Eagles will now call Region 8-AAAAA home. Their last region was top-heavy, often leading to a two-man race for a title while the rest of the teams were left fighting for scraps. This year, however, the league will be overflowing with talent.

Eastside will be joined by perennial state powers Loganville and Greenbrier, as well as burgeoning talent pools at Walnut Grove, Apalachee and Clarke Central. It will be perhaps one of the most complete regions from top to bottom in the entire state.

And the Eagles are eager to face the challenge head-on.

“When you get a chance to play in a region like this, you can’t sleep. You’ve gotta go to work every day and come to the ball field ready to play,” Eastside head coach Brandon Crumbley said. “It’s going to be exciting to strap it up against Walnut Grove and Loganville. [We] get to go up against coach [Jeff] Segars — a legend who’s built a program from the ground up.

“We’re excited to play some really good baseball every day that we get in region play. It’s going to be a test, but it’s going to be really fun at the same time.”

As the program has done in recent years, Eastside will delve into a lethal non-region gauntlet with the hopes of emerging as a stronger club.

The Eagles will open the year with road games against Ola, Northside  Columbus and Tift County during their first week. They’ll then head to former league rival Woodward Academy — the three-time defending Region 4-AAAA champion —  on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

“The first week of the season is going to be a test, but I didn’t schedule any harder or softer than I would’ve if it had been a weird year, normal year, whatever,” Crumbley said. “We’re playing some tough teams early to get us ready for region play. And then region play is going to get us ready, hopefully, for the state playoffs.”

When the pandemic prematurely ended Eastside’s 2020 season, the club was forced to bid farewell to one of its most talented senior classes in recent memory. The departure of five players — including a pair of four-year starters — left holes in the pitching staff and lineup.

“It’s tough to replace a class like that, but those guys set a standard of excellence that we want to have here,” Crumbley said. “The guys that are taking over and filled those roles, they know what’s expected. They know what they have to do to be successful.”

Senior left-hander Cade Mitchell will return as the workhorse of Crumbley’s staff. The Eagles will also use seniors Ethan Booth, Sambo Button and Dayton Green and junior Cole Shannon on the mound.

As for newcomers to keep an eye on, sophomore Hunter Denney has emerged as a promising outfielder Crumbley’s crew will lean on.

“We’re a good mix of experienced and inexperienced,” Crumbley said, “which can be good because experienced guys can teach and tell the inexperienced guys what to expect.”

The Eagles are currently scheduled to open the season Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Ola. First pitch is slated for 5:55 p.m.