Class AAAA State Baseball Rankings
1. Blessed Trinity
5. West Laurens
6. Northwest Whitfield
7. Oconee County
10. Flowery Branch
Region 4-AAAA Standings
1. Eastside (19-2, 9-0)
2. Woodward Academy (14-7, 7-1)
3. Hampton (9-13, 7-3)
4. Druid Hills (11-9, 6-4)
5. Luella (4-16, 4-6)
6. Salem (4-12, 3-7)
7. North Clayton (1-9, 1-7)
8. Henry County (2-17, 0-9)
COVINGTON, Ga. — This week, the Class AAAA No. 4 Eastside Eagles baseball team (19-2) has stretched its Region 4-AAAA record to 9-0 after run-ruling Luella 15-0 Wednesday night in a game that took just three innings to complete, as Eastside scored 12 first-inning runs.
Presumably, a similar result will likely take place Thursday night as the Eagles will travel to McDonough to take on a 2-17 Henry County squad that’s 0-9 in region play and has given up 190 runs in its 13-game losing streak.
No disrespect to those teams, but the talent gap is so wide that we don’t typically learn a ton from Eastside in such games. In fact, the biggest lessons we’ve learned about this version of Eastside baseball probably came from the Eagles’ last loss — a 5-1 setback to Class AAAAA No. 6 Riverwood in last Friday’s championship game of the Diamond Devil Dust Up in Norcross.
With Friday’s 5:55 p.m. home game against Region 4-AAAA rival Woodward Academy slated to be Eastside’s next true pitch, it makes sense to glean our lessons about this team from like-caliber opponents.
That said, here are five things we learned from Eastside during its most recent game — vs. Riverwood — against quality competition.
Taking advantage of mistakes is key to Eastside’s next level.
Although the bats were not working for the Eagles against Riverwood last Friday night, they had plenty of opportunities to earn some runs, thanks to the five errors the Riverwood Raiders accumulated on the night. Despite the miscuses, and several instances where Eastside had potential runs on base, the Eagles stranded more than they scored, only able to muster one run.
A lot of that had to do with Riverwood’s speed on defense. Some popped up balls that may have dropped against other opponents turned into outs as Riverwood’s outfield routinely hustled to get under such hits. Still, Eastside no doubt wants a few of those at-bats and scoring chances back, knowing it's imperative to put the pressure on the opposition when it gives them ample free bases.
Clean it up in the field will matter more as playoff time approaches.
While the Eagles had plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the Raiders, they also gave up plenty as well. Eastside had three of its own errors in that game, ultimately leading to the 5-1 loss. Some of these errors included simple fundamental plays like hitting the cutoff man or making an errant throw.
These types of plays led to some of the Raiders’ early, momentum-shifting runs and put more pressure on starting pitcher Jackson Feeney. Fielding has been an issue for the Eagles in their last few games as they recorded seven errors in their last two games before Wednesday night’s win against Luella. Eastside will have to clean it up in the field, starting Friday night with Woodward, if it hopes to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Jackson Feeney once again showed he can pitch with the best.
Junior hurler Jackson Feeney did not have his best night as he was credited with five runs, four of those runs being earned on four walks and eight hits. Feeney had to work out of a lot of tough situations, and his ability to do so actually kept the Riverwood game a lot closer than it could’ve been.
Feeney had five innings of one-run baseball against the Raiders and finished his night with six strikeouts. Although this may look like a poor start from the junior right hander, he did a lot to keep the Eagles in striking distance throughout the night, and Eastside coach Brandon Crumbley said as much.
Tomorrow against Woodward will present Eastside's bullpen another opportunity to flex its muscles. Crumbley said sophomore Cade Mitchell will draw the start, but Feeney, Brayden Downs and Parker Daniel will be ready and waiting if needed.
In the grand scheme of things, the Riverwood game didn't matter…
After that loss last Friday, Crumbley discussed his team’s performance, both in that game and throughout the tournament, in positive tones. In terms of being able to see quality, playoff-caliber pitching and get the chance to put his squad up against another of the state’s best, mission accomplished. This game really should not be on the mind of any of these players or coaches. This was a tournament game with a lot of quality teams and the Eagles should be proud that they fought all the way to the championship game.
Granted, I know a lot of these players have their pride and wanted nothing more than to win this tournament and beat a team like Riverwood. And defeating such a strong team in a higher classification while adding a trophy to the mantle would have given Eastside an occasion to poke its chest out a bit, but it still can, as Eastside’s 2-1 showing in Norcross still raised eyebrows, and prompted them to move up a couple of notches in the latest Class AAAA rankings.
…But it will help
The Eagles have been on a tear and were sitting on a 12-game winning streak before this game. It may be hard to believe, but a loss like this could prove to be largely beneficial for this squad.
Having such a long winning streak can build up a sense of complacency and over-confidence, especially in a region like Eastside’s. With the exception of Woodward and maybe Hampton, the Eagles don’t see a ton of quality pitching or quality bats up and down a lineup in this region. This is why Crumbley schedules teams like Heritage, George Walton Academy and this Norcross tournament. It’s a way to offset some of what his team doesn’t see in region play.
Ultimately, the Eagles are still one of the top teams in Class AAAA and although they did not walk away as champions from the Diamond Devil Dust, they have a lot to be proud of and should grow into a stronger squad after these challenging games, starting Friday with Woodward.