Another impressive baseball season came to an end for the Evans Knights on Tuesday afternoon with a pair of losses to Marist in the Class AAAA state tournament quarterfinals.
The losses stopped a potential state championship run, but Evans coach Ricky Beale said the season as a whole was a success.
"We knew with as many guys as we lost last year, the seniors would have to step up for us," Beale said.
The Knights entered the 2006 season with the entire starting pitching staff depleted and several position starters gone. The result was a rocky first half of the season. Heading into the final month of regular-season play, Evans held a mediocre 8-6 record.
The last straw was a 9-7 loss on the road at Effingham County that gave the Knights a region record of 2-3.
Beale said the seniors had a meeting after the loss. The result was a complete turnaround.
"After that loss to Effingham, we started playing better baseball," Beale said. "You could see the leadership coming from the seniors."
Evans finished the rest of the regular season with a 4-2 record. When the Knights traveled to Effingham County again in the first round of the region tournament, Evans took revenge with wins of 7-1 and 12-7 to earn a state tournament bid and advance to the region semifinals.
The Knights swept Lee County and Woodward Academy in a pair of state tournament series for a state quarterfinals spot.
The run was one series short of last season's final four appearance.
"After we started off so bad, we didn't even expect to make it to state," Evans junior Kyle Golden said. "Then we started playing better baseball. Everybody started hitting again."
After losing most of last season's team to graduation, the Knights will now see nine more seniors graduate: Shawn Ward, Matt Stark, Cory Rodgers, Wes Baxter, Zack Walker, Alex Sickman, Pat Foster, Jason Brearley and Josh Brodhecker.
"The seniors were everything," Golden said. "We needed them to fill every single spot and they did. They came alive in the playoffs."
With seven everyday starters leaving the team, Beale and his coaching staff find themselves in a similar situation.
"We're probably losing more this year than last year. We've got to replace eight position starters," Beale said.
Despite the amount of seniors to replace, Beale said, the team isn't exactly back where it started from. After a successful 2006 season, the Knights' underclassmen now have an example to follow.
"The experience was huge. These young guys can look back and say so-and-so did it, we can do it, too," Beale said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.