Think back to any big high school baseball game this season. In a county that saw four of the six teams reach the state playoffs and two of those teams claim state titles, big games weren't rare.
One thing remained stable in those big games. Whether on the field or in the bleachers, Kyle Golden was there.
Of course, the Evans High School starting pitcher was a major part of every game for the Knights this season. But even when Evans didn't have a game scheduled, Golden was quick to find a local team that did play.
"I love baseball whether I'm playing or not," he said. "I've got friends I've played with on just about every team around here."
It's those friendships that allowed Golden, a loyal and dedicated Knight, to attend a game at rival Lakeside and cheer for leadoff man John Arena and starting shortstop Zach Lawson. He was also at arch-rival Greenbrier this season supporting starting catcher Russ Winter and even stopped by Augusta Christian's field to cheer on starting catcher and pitcher Taylor Hensley.
When Golden's on the mound at Evans, expect to see a Lakeside, Greenbrier or Augusta Christian player there also.
Even though most of the boys are on opposite sides of heated rivalries, the glue that keeps their friendships together was applied long before they ever stepped onto a varsity baseball field.
They were all once Martinez-Evans Little League Champions.
"We were the Astros," Golden said. "That's where I played with Russ Winter. He's my best friend. It's the same at Lakeside with John and Zach and with Taylor."
All told, at least 16 seniors from last high school baseball season were once Martinez-Evans stars. Evans pitcher Pat Husbands, an 11-year old on the Marlins when the Astros won the championship, still remembers those days like they were yesterday.
"I remember the Astros were stacked," Husbands said. "It wasn't fair. I remember people throwing hard, and in one game Kyle Golden and Taylor Hensley both hit two home runs off us."
Husbands' time came the next year as a 12-year-old when he and teammate Nick Richards, now a rising senior at Greenbrier, led the Marlins to a Martinez-Evans championship. The league title came in a win over a pitcher named Kevin Millward - now an Evans star.
"It was me against him on the mound, and I remember we both hit home runs off each other in the championship game," Husbands said. "His home run was the longest I've ever seen in a Little League game."
Now more than half a decade later, most of those memories and friendships have lived on. Many recently graduated seniors will further distance themselves from each other as college baseball beckons, but at least one pair of friends will stick together. Golden and Hensley will head for college as teammates and roommates at Middle Georgia College.
On Friday, another Martinez-Evans championship will take place when the defending champion Cardinals will take on the Royals. Considering the past, this championship game might give local fans an ideal opportunity to see the future of Columbia County baseball.
The game will begin at 7 p.m.
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