Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
There is no love lost between the Evans and Lakeside high school baseball teams, but when the Panthers and Knights renewed their rivalry Saturday during Diamond Day festivities at Evans, the foes sounded more like friends.
"Ricky does a great job over here. I like what he's done, and I like how his kids act," Lakeside coach Jimmy Smith said of the Knights and their coach Ricky Beale.
"They're just a class act," Smith continued. "I enjoy playing them. I'm sorry we didn't get to play them last year."
Last season, since Evans was stuck with a grueling road schedule in Region 4-AAAAA, the Knights opted to not play the Panthers.
Saturday marked the first Evans-Lakeside meeting since the 2000 season, and the Panthers proceeded to top the Knights 6-4 in the Diamond Day finale.
Even after a controversial third-strike call against Evans to close the contest, Beale wasn't bellyaching.
"Anytime you play Lakeside, it's good for both schools and it's good for the community," he said. "They're a good ball club, and you're only going to get better when you play good teams."
Lakeside raced to a 6-0 lead, as Carlos Markyna laced a three-run homer in the top of the first, then added an RBI sacrifice fly in third. Preston Crews set the table by going three-for-three, Wes Turner drove in a run, while Evans committed an error which allowed Steven Lewis to cross the plate.
Evans trimmed the margin to 6-4 with two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings off Lakeside starter Chris Synan. Matt Josephson came on in relief and escaped a fifth-inning jam, but got in hot water in the bottom of the seventh.
With two on and two out, Justin Walker came to bat as the potential game-winning run. Josephson worked the count to two-and-two, then delivered a high fastball.
In fact, Josephson's offering seemed extremely high, but the umpire said strike three, much to the chagrin of Walker and Beale.
"We had some calls at the plate that were kind of questionable," Smith admitted. "I don't feel bad about that last one, considering we should have struck out two or three of them before then."
Diamond Day opened with a pair of junior varsity games, then the Evans varsity spanked North Augusta 11-1 behind solid pitching from Seth Newsome. Jon Lee and Fernando Mickens each homered against the Yellow Jackets.
With the win over North Augusta, Evans improved its record to 4-0, but Lakeside put a stop to that win streak.
"This is what we need; it's a feather in our cap, I hope," Smith said. "But we'll have 'em again, and they'll battle just like they did in this game."
Columbia County's high school baseball fans won't have to wait long for a rematch - Evans travels to Lakeside Friday for a 7:30 p.m. game.
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