With luck, the Evans High School baseball team will start the 2004 season in style.
The Knights are getting a new locker room with upgraded restroom facilities, and coach Ricky Beale hopes the improvements will be completed in time for Monday's season opener against Hephzibah.
"It's coming along real well," Beale said. "We're working on it."
Beale is keeping his fingers crossed, because he learned last year that hard work and good luck don't always go hand-in-hand.
Evans didn't lose a game to a Columbia County opponent in 2003, and the Knights posted a 7-1 record in Region 7-AAAAA to tie for first place in region play.
Those achievements weren't good enough - Evans lost the run-differential tiebreaker and was stuck with the No. 3 seed in Region 7-AAAAA. That forced the Knights to travel in the first round of the state playoffs, where the team was eliminated by Pope.
Evans baseball coach Ricky Beale wants to see an improvement in his Knights from thir performances the past two seasons.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The story was similar two seasons ago, when Beale's first year as head coach at Evans ended with a first-round playoff loss at Lassiter.
"We're fairly satisfied, but not pleased," Beale said of the past two campaigns. "We've got some things we need to improve on. We're not happy about being knocked out in the first round of the state playoffs the past two years."
This season Beale wants to see his players enjoying their new locker room - during the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
"We want to get a playoff series at home," he said. "We've got a good group of seniors, and they're excited about trying to win the region title."
The squad is led by seniors Mike Armstrong, Trey Beatty, Chris Rhea, Ben Stapleton and Doug Wylie, but the key to success might hinge on the hill.
Evans lost its top two pitchers, Seth Newsome and John Wehr, to graduation. This season's staff features Beatty, Tim Steflik, Hank McCladdie, Zack Baker and Brad Freeman.
"Those kids know how to throw, and they have the ability and physical makeup to do the job," Beale said. "I've been real pleased so far. They've really been working hard at practice."
The Knights will be tested immediately. In addition to the season- and home-opener Monday with Hephzibah, Evans plays host to Greenbrier (Wednesday) and Harlem (Friday) during the first week of the 2004 campaign.
"For our nonregion games, we tried to get as tough as we could," Beale said. "If you play everyone in Columbia County, it's tough to begin with."
Though Beale says he is stressing the importance of good play early in the season, Evans does have the time to work some kinks out, because the team doesn't begin Region 7-AAAAA action until April 13.
Many local observers expected Evans to roll past its opponents on the diamond last year, but Region 7-AAAAA proved to be pretty good in baseball.
"People don't think this is a baseball region, but these teams have great athletes," Beale said. "We'll have to work for it this year. We can't take anybody lightly."
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