COVINGTON, Ga. — Five consecutive seasons of collecting 20-plus victories isn’t enough for the Eastside High School baseball team.
Sure, it’s a sturdy platform for third-year head coach Brandon Crumbley and the Eagles to work off of going forward, but they won’t be satisfied with simply sitting back and snoozing on their laurels. Not even close.
When the Eagles take the diamond to open their regular season in south Georgia this weekend, they’ll be itching to prove they can elevate themselves to yet another level in 2020.
“We’re 48-11 the last three years, but we got to the Sweet 16 in 2018 and then we got beat in the first round in 2019. So, yeah, [expectations] are high,” Eastside head coach Brandon Crumbley said. “The guys are hungry and they want the success, but we know that it’s not going to come easy.”
The Eagles certainly have their work cut out for them if they hope to notch win No. 20 by season’s end for the sixth year in a row.
Eastside’s non-conference schedule is comprised of nine teams who qualified for the state playoffs in their respective classifications last spring, including a Class AAAAAAA state quarterfinalist in Houston County, the Class AAAAA state runner-up in Ola and a Class AAAA state semifinalist in North Oconee.
The club will be tested against those three powerhouses — as well as five other teams coming off postseason appearances — before opening Region 4-AAAA play in early March.
“We’re playing some really good teams early in the year, which is good when you play in a region like we do, which is not as strong baseball-wise,” Crumbley said. “When we go match up with Woodward, we’ll know what to expect because we’ll have been in some tight situations. It’s going to be good, and I’m excited to see us compete.”
Eastside went 22-5 last year, but the promising campaign was washed away when the Eagles were promptly swept out of the first round by eventual Class AAAA state champion Northside.
Crumbley believes the key to getting back to the postseason will be clicking at the right time. How his team navigates through its difficult non-region gauntlet won’t impact whether or not it can win a region title, but it will prepare his kids to face any challenge that comes their way.
“When you get in the playoffs, you’re going to play those really good teams. I think last year, the difference was we didn’t play very many good teams early, so we didn’t know what to expect,” Crumbley said.
After graduating four seniors from last year’s squad, Eastside will be returning the majority of its starting nucleus. Leading the pack will be junior left-hander Cade Mitchell, who is expected to be tabbed the team’s ace once again.
Mitchell tossed 31 innings as a sophomore and led the Eagles with 51 strikeouts while posting a 2.70 ERA. His breakout campaign earned him top honors in the area as he was named the 2019 Covington News All-County Pitcher of the Year.
Other returning veterans for the Eagles include four-year starter Noah Cook, fellow senior Colby Shivers, and juniors Sambo Button, Ethan Booth and Tanner Middlebrooks. Collectively, the core will provide the club with veteran leadership as well as reliable bats throughout the lineup.
“You look across the field and it’s guys that have been with us for a long time, which is good,” Crumbley said. “Having those older guys, they can really step up, know what we expect and take care of business. We’re excited to see where they can take us.”
Eastside will travel down to Adel on Friday, Feb. 14, to open the new season in the Hornet Invitational at Cook County High School. The Eagles will square off against Crisp County on Friday at 6:30 p.m. before facing Colquitt County and Islands on Saturday.
“We’re doing something different this year. We’re going down south to play in that event and play some teams that we probably won’t play otherwise. So, it’s going to be exciting to get out of Covington, go play somebody and see what happens,” Crumbley said.