NORCROSS, Ga. — For a team that had won 11 straight games coming into Thursday night’s game against the Madison County Red Raiders (6-10, 1-5) in the second day of the Diamond Devil Dust Up, the Eastside Eagles (17-1, 7-0) possessed an obvious sense of urgency that manifested in a 9-5 win, despite a late-game scare.
Colby Shivers, who helped the Eagles in a major way in Wednesday’s game, got things started early with a ground hit was able to round to third base. With two on for Eastside, Noah Cook smoked a line-drive into left field that ushered in Shivers.
Next, Kyle Shivers smacked a hard grounder and reached on an error from Madison County’s third baseman. The error — one of four for Madison — allowed Cook to advance to second. After that, Sambo Button doubled on a line drive to left that let Cook and Kyle Shivers cross home plate.
Still in the first inning, Button made it 4-0 on another error-aided score and John Robert McGowan recorded a RBI double on a fly ball to right field. to make it 5-0. By the time Cole Shannon’s line drive double brought in courtesy runner Slade Holloway to make it 6-0 in the first, it looked like Eastside was poised to run away with the game early on.
With a such a huge lead that early, Eastside coach Brandon Crumbley admits his team let off the gas a bit.
“You know, we jumped out on them early and then we hit that lull in the fourth and fifth innings,” Crumbley said.
Headed into the fourth, the Eagles had stretched their lead to 7-1, and the hit count was eight to two in Eastside High’s favor. Crumbley, however, still wanted his team to stay locked in and continue to compete.
In the third, Madison county discovered something with their pitching, and somehow found a way to slow the Eagles down. The third was the first inning of the contest the Eagles were unable to score a run.
Eastside went up 8-2 when Ethan Booth singled a line drive to left field that plated Aron Cox in the top of the fifth. But in the bottom frame, things began to get interesting.
A two-run RBI double by Madison County’s Jarrett Moore put the Red Raiders right back in the game, tightening the score at 8-5, and suddenly a team that looked done for in the beginning, had the look of a team that was prepared to steal a win.
“I kept reiterating it to guys, ‘Let’s not let them hang around, because [with] good teams, if you let them hang around, they’re going to wind up and beat you,’” Crumbley said. “But we stuck with it, and we were fortunate to get a win today.”
Left-handed pitcher Cade Mitchell did enough for the Eagles, getting the win on the mound with a five-inning, five-run outing where he allowed nine hits but also struck out five to keep him a perfect 4-0 on the season.
“[Mitchell] pitched well – he didn’t have his best stuff today, but he pitched well,” Crumbley said. “He gave us a chance to win, and that’s all that matters. We didn’t play defense behind him, and that’s uncharacteristic of us. We kicked it around little bit [and I’m] not too happy about that at all. Some guys [were] just overthinking and not making plays, but we'll get better and we’ll clean it up.”
Mitchell gave way to junior Brayden Downs who closed out the game, and the sophomore admits he may have been too conscious of the Red Raiders’ hitting.
“They can hit the ball for sure,” Mitchell said. “You just have to kind of keep pushing and don’t think too much or you’re going to try to do too much.”
Eastside notched its 12th straight win which is five away from tying the school record of 17 consecutive victories — a mark that was established last season. But Crumbley doesn’t want his team to waive the victory flag just yet.
After the game, you could sense a collective sigh of relief from Eastside, and Crumbley used it as a teachable moment as Eastside gets set to face Class AAAAA No. 7 Riverwood (16-1) in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. tournament championship game.
Riverwood quickly dispatched tournament host Norcross 16-6 Thursday to earn its spot in the title game, opposite Eastside.
“We just got to keep working hard,” Crumbley said. “We don’t want to get all caught up in the rankings and the winning streak. We don’t even talk about it. I don’t even know if my kids were ranked, I don’t want anybody to know. I don’t care about rankings because to me right now, those rankings mean nothing. I want to be ranked at the end of the year [and] that’s all I’m concerned about.”
Crumbley reverted back to his early notion that his team’s presence in Norcross — win or lose — is what’s necessary to get them ready for the games that truly matter.
“We got a job to do as far as region play and we want to win a region championship and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Crumbley said.