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PREP BASEBALL: No. 6 Eastside 'excited' to test itself against top competition in Norcross tournament
Eastside Baseball
The Eastside Eagles stay hot heading into Friday night's game against Woodward Academy. -photo by Brett Fowler

Dust Up Rundown

When: Wednesday April 3 through Friday April 5

Where: Norcross High School, 5300 Spalding Drive, Norcross 30092


Eastside (15-1, 7-1 in Region 4-AAAA)  Ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA

Norcross (12-8, 4-2 in Region 7-AAAAAAA)

Fellowship Christian  (14-4, 11-1 in Region 6-A) Ranked No. 4 in Class A Private

Riverwood (14-1, 9-0 in Region 6-AAAAA) Ranked No. 7 in Class AAAAA

Jackson-Atlanta (10-6, 5-4 in Region 6-AAAAA)

Madison County (6-9, 1-5 in Region 8-AAAA)

Northview (4-13, 2-9 in Region 7-AAAAAA)

Trinity Christian (12-5, 6-2 in Region 5-A)

Tournament Bracket: Diamond Devil Dust Up Bracket

NORCROSS, Ga. — This time last year, the Eastside Eagles baseball team played a familiar opponent during spring break — itself. 

This year’s a bit different. Starting today, Eastside (15-1, 7-0) will test its Class AAAA No. 6 ranking against some solid Georgia squads in the Diamond Devil Dust Up tournament hosted at Norcross High School. 

The 3-day, single elimination tournament which guarantees each team three games is a welcomed change of pace for Eastside coach Brandon Crumbley and his playoff-bound bunch craving to see how they match up against quality opposition that the Eagles otherwise wouldn’t see. 

“It’s teams wouldn’t normally get to play, but it’s also a chance to go and play in an environment that’s different,” Crumbley said. “We’ve never done anything like this before, so I’m excited to see how we perform and how we play.” 

In Crumbley’s first two years leading Eastside baseball — last year as interim coach — spring break week work has been a priority. Last year Crumbley said the team played an intrasquad “World Series-like scrimmage” to try and keep its edge. But the consensus after last year’s spring break seemed to be for Eastside to grab some more exposure beyond its Covington comfort zone. 

“That scrimmage we did last year worked for the first day and a half or so, but then everybody got tired of it,” he said. “But I think the kids are excited to do something to break up the region grind.” 

The Eagles are in the midst of a 10-game winning streak as it faces Jackson (10-6, 5-4 in Region 6-AAAAA) Wednesday at 11 a.m. Three of the eight teams in the tournament’s bracket are ranked in their respective classification’s top 10, including a Class AAAAA No. 7 Riverwood squad that Crumbley said he hopes his bunch gets the chance to play. 

The Raiders boast a couple of college commits on their roster, including a Division I arm in pitcher Brett Thomas. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righty is committed to South Carolina, and presents the kind of challenge on the mound Eastside wants to test itself against. 

“We probably wouldn’t see them unless we made it to the tournament’s championship game, but I’d really want to see us play Riverwood,” Crumbley said. “They’ve got that big-time commit, a South Carolina guy, but he runs it up there from 91 to 95 (miles per hour). Fellowship Christian’s got some players. Trinity Christian, down in Sharpsburg, they’re a really good team too.” 

Crumbley said he found out about the tournament through an email he received from the Georgia Dugout Club sent to a group of high school coaches across the state. After seeing what needed to be done to get Eastside into the bracket, he didn’t hesitate to make the move. 

“I immediately emailed them back and said, ‘Hey, I want in. I want to play.’ Because I want to do something different other than just playing against one another.” Crumbley said. “We were the sixth team out of the eight teams to get in, so we got in right toward the end."

It’s the philosophy behind the way Eastside schedules its non-region slate. Besides Woodward Academy and, perhaps Hampton, Region 4-AAAA gives little to be desired in terms of facing the kind of quality pitching and bats Eastside is likely to see when the postseason begins later this month. 

Outside of Eastside and Woodward Academy, the rest of Region 4-AAAA is a combined 27-66. Hampton is 9-9 overall, but 6-1 in the region. To put some of the region’s futility — particularly in its bottom half — consider that the region’s last three teams, Salem, Henry County and North Clayton, have scored the same amount of runs combined (171) that Druid Hills alone has scored. 

Many of Druid Hills’ runs have come against lesser teams like Cross Keys, Columbia and, of course, North Clayton and Henry County. 

Eastside junior pitcher Brayden Downs said he knows for a fact his teammates are pumped about the opportunity to play at Norcross. 

“We definitely want the opportunity,” he said. “We know some of the teams we have to play in our region aren’t the best, so this will give us a chance to face some really good competition.” 

If Eastside wins its Wednesday game with Jackson, it’ll move on to face either Madison County or Northview in the winner’s bracket at 4 p.m. Thursday. If it loses, it’ll fall to the consolation bracket for an 11 a.m. Thursday contest against the Madison County-Northview loser. 

Regardless of how it goes, Crumbley knows this tournament will only aid his ball club in getting set for a deep Class AAAA state tournament run. 

"It's huge for us to play there," he said. "It ultimately tests our guys to see good pitching. Like I've said before, when we get to the playoffs, everybody's gonna have good pitching. So when we get there, and we've played teams like these, it's not new to us. We've already seen it. We've seen it in January and February. We've seen good arms in March, and we're ready to see some good ones this week as well."