Chris Segraves admits things didn't look so well for his Evans Knights at the beginning of the year.
After all, the team's No. 1 starter became academically ineligible and the Knights had to replace home-run hitter B.J. Long
"Certainly, there was a level of apprehension when you lose a guy who was your No. 1 the year before," said Segraves, the fourth-year Evans coach. "Your No. 2 (pitcher) has to step up to be your No. 1 and everybody else has to follow suit. They're forced into those situations, and you just don't know how they are going to respond."
Behind strong pitching, Evans has racked up a 19-4 record and a No. 5 state ranking. The Knights will begin their trek to the state playoffs when they play host to Houston County in a doubleheader at 3 p.m. in the Region 2-AAAA semifinals. If necessary, Game 3 will be played at Houston County on Saturday.
Lakeside (17-9) travels to Westside Macon to play in a doubleheader today at 3:30 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 of the series will be held at Lakeside on Monday.
The winners of the two series will qualify for the state playoffs and will play a one-game sudden-death playoff for the region next week.
Evans, a team that was expected to hit well, has surprised everyone with its pitching this year. Senior Darren Radcliff (5-0, 0.83 ERA) has one of the top earned run averages in the area. Senior Wes Ward (7-1, 2.61) and David Steflik (6-2, 3.12) also have pitched well. Outfielders Jamal Jones and Kenny Ludlow have become relief pitchers.
"People expected us to struggle when we lost our No. 1 pitcher," Radcliff said. "We had to step up."
"Wes and David and Darren have done a tremendous job as far as stepping into be our starters," Segraves said. "Kenny and Jamal have done an admirable job of being our closers this year.
"It's been a very pleasant surprise. Our pitchers have stepped up and done a tremendous job. I've been very satisfied with their efforts."
Because of its pitching, Evans was able to win several close ball games at the beginning of the season.
"We figure out a way to get it done most of the time," senior pitcheroutfielder Kenny Ludlow said.
Jon Lee leads an Evans hitting attack that has seven players batting above .300.
Lakeside has been finding a way to get it done of late as well. After a 5-6 start to the year, the Panthers have won 12 of their past 15 and are riding a seven-game winning streak.
"All we've been told this season is that this was going to be a building year," senior center fielder Timmy Wixson said. "I don't want to leave here without showing the sophomores and juniors the way to the state playoffs. I think they've got a real good chance to go all the way to the state championship next year."
Lakeside lost eight seniors off last year's squad and suddenly became young. The Panthers have no senior pitchers and often have five sophomores in the starting lineup.
But Mike Norland (10-2, 3.20) and Peter Alewine (3-2, 3.32), along with John Seebode (4-2, 4.83), have pitched well.
Junior first baseman Quin Lunsford has been one of the best hitters in the area with a .500 batting average, two homers and 30 RBI. Alewine has had a solid year at the plate (.337) along with catcher Parker Dye (.325).
"It just seems like our hits are falling this year," Lunsford said. "We're finding holes right now. When you're hot, things happen. It can turn around just as easily as it turned on for us."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.