Any championship team in any sport will tell you that to win a championship everybody has to buy in and everybody has to understand their role. Some players on championship teams don’t like each other (Hi Shaq and Kobe), but they still work together for the common goal – a championship. This year’s Eastside baseball team hasn’t won a championship yet, but the Eagles are playing with the swagger and confidence of a championship team.
Swagger and confidence isn’t a tangible statistic that you can see or judge the value of. Both swagger and confidence are immeasurable intangible values that have a major impact on team success. You can see both in Eastside. They don’t brag or boast, but just looking at their faces and judging from their actions they look like a team that believes it’s the best team on the diamond no matter who the competition is.
“It comes from working hard with a man next to you,” Bruce Evans, Eatsside head coach, said about the origins of his team’s confidence. “When everybody on this team has something invested in getting to a certain goal or playing a game and going about the game a certain way and they work hard for that everyday, they kill their self out there everyday for each other they care about each other and when you care about the man next to you, you got all the confidence in the world he’s going to come through.”
The Eagles are coming off a big series sweep (2-0) against Walnut Grove that gave Eastside a one-game lead for second place on their side of Region 4-AAAA. With just four games left, all the Eagles have to do is win three of four to keep their position.
To get its second win, the series clincher, Eastside’s bats were crucial as they outhit Walnut Grove to win 11-6. They ran a lot of plays against the Warriors Thursday and they were all executed properly, Evans says. That starts with confidence.
“When I as a coach have that confidence in my guys to know they’re gon’ do that (execute) they know I’ve got confidence in ‘em or I wouldn’t call it. It just kind of builds off each other,” Evans said. “They see that I’ve got confidence in them and I see they’ve got confidence in me and the other coaches. Everybody’s got confidence in each other. We start having each other’s back going after it and that’s what builds it (confidence). That’s the team we want right there on the field.”
Bunting and knowing when to bunt is a specialty for Evans. It’s a tool the Eagles use to manufacture runs and also to prevent outs and keep runners on base. Josh Sims and Hunter Ballard laid down to perfect bunts toward the third baseline on Thursday and it just looked routine to them.
“I wish I could tell you the magic potion. If it was one I’d bottle that thing up and sell it,” Evans laughed.
“You know in your family at home if you’ve got a brother or sister or mother and daddy, you know who you can count on. These guys know they can count on each other. Pitchers know they can count on each other, hitters know they can count on each other. We know our catcher’s gonna be big back there and do what’s gotta be done,” Evans said.
That’s all Eastside did against Walnut Grove the entire series was “do what’s gotta be done.” In the first game the offense was good, but the pitching from Eagle Gray Ritchey was out oof this world. The second game was all offense, with some nice defensive plays mixed in.
In the bottom of the sixth inning Connor Hewell made a great diving catch down the middle at second to get the second out of the inning and keep Walnut Grove hitless through the final frames.
“I saw that it was roped,” Hewell said. “He hit it hard and just off-bat I knew I was gonna have to get dirty. I just stuck it out there. Sometimes it hits you and sometimes it don’t and it just fell in there, it felt good. I’m glad I could make a play for my team like that.”
“Connor Hewell, he’s worked his butt off all year,” Evans said. “Him and Austin [Kerbow] both kind of platooning at second a little bit working in and out. Connor hasn’t played second in a while, but he’s earned it. He earned another chance at it and when he got a chance he makes a diving catch up the middle and his biggest fan is Kerbow over here. They don’t resent each other and that ain’t just those two I’m saying our whole team’s that way. We pull for the nine guys out there and we pull for the guy in the batter’s box no matter who it is or what’s going on everybody on our team pulls for each other. When we get to that place, man, that’s a good place to be for a team, especially a high school team.”
Nothing echoed that fact more than when Sims hit his first homerun at the top of the seventh inning and drew cheers from fans and his teammates as they ran out of the dugout to greet him at home plate.
“When I first hit I was not expecting it the ball to go out,” Sims said. “I thought it was just another regular pop-up, but I heard everybody cheering. I looked up, coach started to give me a high five and it was gone.”
Noting how his team cheered for him when he hit the deep ball Sims said, “It’s just a brotherhood. We do everything together. We bleed together, we sweat together, so we celebrate together.”
Like the teammates they are, Hewell backed him up, “It’s just team chemistry, man. We’ve been together since we were little to we’re older now. It’s crazy just seeing everybody getting into it. One guy make a catch and one guy hit a bomb, it’s just awesome to see everybody come together. We pick up momentum off that and just ride with it.”
All the Eagles have to do is keep winning and they’ll solidify second and host the No. 3 seed from the other side of the region in a three-game series which will likely be Jonesboro.
“Right now it’s in our own hands and that’s where we want it,” Evans said. “We don’t wanna count on somebody else to do our work for us. We want to come in here and do our job and do the work that we need to do to get to where we want to go.”