Last year around this time Eastside baseball was 14-12 (9-7 in region play) sitting at home while other teams were in the playoffs. Enter new head coach Bruce Evans with a load of talent such as Gray Ritchie, Hunter Ballard, Josh Sims, Austin Holloway, Charlie Greenich, Jared Jones and more and the Eagles finished with a 21-9 record in a first round exit in the playoffs.
The loss stung the Eagles, despite the team being just a No. 4 seed. Eastside had shown a lot of promise throughout the season. The way Region 4-AAAA is set up forced the Eagles into dropping to the No. 4 seed despite having the same region record as Pike (15-3) and a better record than Griffin (12-5).
Evans says he was excited that seniors like the Jones twins (Jake and Jared), Hunter Ballard, Justin Moore and Hunter Davidson all got a chance to go experience a successful season and go out playing in the state playoffs because a lot of seniors don’t get that opportunity.
“For a first year I think that’s pretty awesome to go 21-7,” Evans said.
Evans says that despite the loss he realizes that the team has grown in ways that are bigger than baseball. Evans recalls that when he initially got here it seemed to him that the team wasn’t as close as they could be. He says it was like they were divided.
Now, Evans says, they’ve become a family.
“I hope that’s something that they (the seniors) carry for the rest of their life this family bond that we have together. Even though they’re gonna graduate and move on do different things I feel like they’re always gonna know that they’re a part of this family,” Evans said.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way the kids played,” he added. “We teach them a lot more about life and about the struggle of life and the way to handle things and react to things. That stuffs greater than baseball, and I feel like our kids came a long way with that.”
The Eagles have players that contributed from all four grade levels this season. Evans says his seniors will be hard to replace, but he has a good core coming back with Holloway, Sims, Greenich, Ritchie and a host of others.
“One thing that we learned and I hope that they learned is that it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in anybody can step up and play and be a part of this,” Evans said.
Evans says the life lessons they’ve learned through the adversity they’ve faced together is something he hopes the players keep with them for a lifetime because that’s how life is. After the team lost both playoff games, Evans says there wasn’t a dry eye out in left field.
He says he talked to the team about how they got to the playoffs and faced trials and tribulations just to get there. Eastside’s season didn’t start off great. After the first couple of games the Eagles were 0-2 and dealing with a number of injuries to its pitching staff.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re fighting hard and ain’t getting anywhere, but you gotta keep going. We’ve done a lot of that this year,” Evans said. “I feel like our kids understand what it takes to be good men and to represent their school and their town and they’ve done that with dignity and pride.”
Evans says he’s watched the team grow as people and baseball players. He added that he and his coaching staff try to educate the whole child not just the baseball player, and he feels they’ve done a good job of that.
Eastside’s young players were in a lot of big games this year and Evans believes the experience will prepare them for what’s to come next year. Eastside was picked to finish in the bottom five of the standings this year, but they took teams by surprise and Evans knows they won’t be able to do that next year. He says they’ll have to play with a target on their back, but he thinks they’re ready for it.
To have such a turnaround in a coach’s first year is a great feat, but Evans says he’s just happy to be here and have the support that he does.
“I really appreciate the parents and all the support from the school, the administration and everybody that we’ve had this year,” Evans said. “I’ve never experienced such a blessing from everybody pulling on the same rope and nobody pulling against you. It’s really something nice and something special for us to be able to work in peace and enjoyment and everybody supporting us and pulling us. It’s really nice. We’ve got a great of parents, kids, administrators and teachers. I just appreciate everything everybody’s done to make my family feel welcome here.”