Conventional wisdom says Columbia County's public high school baseball teams have yet to play any "important" games.
But though the crucial region contests are still ahead, squads must learn how to win before crunch time arrives.
The Evans High School Knights had a sharp leaning curve last week, as Coach Ricky Beale's team pulled out a pair of extra-inning wins over county rivals.
Last Saturday, Evans nipped Lakeside High School 8-7, and on Tuesday the Knights survived a 3-2 home thriller against Greenbrier High School.
Behind solid pitching from Scott Wandless, the Wolfpack held a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Evans pinch-hitter Chris Snow started the inning with a bloop hit, and after Travis Clark and Mike Armstrong each notched RBI singles, the Knights had evened the score.
Seth Newsome, meanwhile, was cruising along on the mound for the Knights. The senior worked through the top of the eighth, and earned the win when Armstrong drove in Brad Freeman with a two-out hit in the bottom half.
Beale believes those non-region victories could set the stage for future success.
Evans senior Seth Newsome worked all eight innings Tuesday against Greenbrier.
"They don't quit. They've got a lot of character in them," Beale said. "Against Lakeside, Chance (Smith) and Travis (Clark) came through with big hits, and tonight in the sixth inning we're sitting there with a zero on the scoreboard. They could have quit right there, but they kept battling. If the players just keep believing in themselves in those situations, we'll be all right down the road."
Despite the tough loss to Evans, Greenbrier coach Ed Williams is satisfied with the Pack's progress this season. Seniors Ben Tankersley and Adam Turner have wielded hot bats, freshmen Rich Poythress and Erik Smith are coming along well, and Williams also is pleased by the play of first-year catcher Jeremy Armstrong.
'It was just a good high school baseball game. We came up on the short end this time, but games like this will help us in April when we do start the region," Williams said. "It hurts to lose, but down the road, it's going to help us."
The "road" is about to get rockier. Greenbrier begins Region 3-AAAA play this Tuesday at Cross Creek High School.
"They've got a very good team," Williams said. "They've got a lot of confidence right now. They're winning, and it's contagious."
Greenbrier is the defending region champion, while Evans is entering its first season in Region 7-AAAAA. The Knights have weathered a rugged early-season schedule, which Beale says was by design.
"We have such a young group, I wanted to play the best teams we could, and we've done that so far. Every team we've played so far is quality baseball," he said. "Our young guys needed to see good teams, so when they get to region they won't be shocked when they see good teams."
Along with Greenbrier, Lakeside and Harlem high schools also start region play this week. The Panthers travel to play Statesboro High School in Region 3-AAAA action Tuesday, and the Bulldogs open the Region 3-AAA slate Monday at Jefferson County High School.
Evans, on the other hand, has a bit more time to prepare for region play. The Knights make their Region 7-AAAAA debut on April 15 at Redan High School, and the wait suits Beale just fine.
"It gives us a lot of practice time," the second-year head coach said. "We can work on the things we're not very good at right now, and just keep getting better."
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