Originally created 05/24/05

Evans' Ward, Raborn make a lethal combo



Maybe you remember that super fans skit on Saturday Night Live with George Wendt, who would drink beer and yell "Da Bears."

Most at the students at Evans High aren't old enough to remember the vignette, but the few who do have given Knights center fielder Shawn Ward a nickname: "Da Ward."

Ward and third baseman Ken Raborn have been good enough during the past month to pick their own nicknames and are hitting the ball as hard as Mike Singletary once hit running backs.

"They have just been unbelievable," said senior pitcher Tim Steflik. "Ward hasn't taken his game to another level. He's gone up about nine levels. And Kenny is one of the most dangerous hitters I've ever seen."

When Evans (21-8) plays the best-of-three Class AAAA state quaterfinals series with Etowah (20-9) at 4 p.m. today, the "RBI Brothers" will try to lead the Knights to their first final four since 1994, the year of the school's last state titles.

They will have to face one of the state's best pitchers, University of Georgia-bound lefty Nick DeSilvio, in Game 1.

"We have a tremendous challenge in front of us," said Evans coach Ricky Beale

"We are hitting the ball well as a team. But if it comes down to needing those two to carry us offensively, we still feel comfortable with that they way they are hitting the ball."

Beale and the team have a great deal of confidence in Ward and Raborn, the team's Nos. 3-4 hitters. Ward and Raborn both have nine home runs, both hit well over .400 and both have 30-plus RBI on the season.

But both hitters began the season slowly.

"I don't really know what was happening at first," Raborn said. "I wasn't getting a lot of great pitches and didn't have a lot of runners on when I was hitting."

Raborn, who stands about 5-foot-8, has also struggled to grab college attention because of his shorter stature.

"Here is a kid that just crushes the ball," Beale said. "There aren't many players that have the ability to do what Kenny does. He has one of the best bats I've ever seen."

Early season adjustments were needed to get Ward to maximize his potential.

While still hitting over .300, Ward was shifted in the lineup from the leadoff hitter to No. 2.

Beale decided that placing Ward in front of Raborn would benefit both hitters. The hit parade commenced.

During one week in April, Raborn hit four home runs and had a dozen RBI. That performance caught the eye of USC Aiken assistant Michael Holder, a former Evans player. Raborn has since signed a letter of intent with the Pacers.

"I just started seeing a lot of good pitches," Raborn said. "Because Shawn was getting on base, I was getting RBI opportunities almost every at bat."

Ward benefited because pitchers couldn't pitch around him. The junior's batting average has risen 150 points to .455. During a region semifinal loss to Statesboro, Ward hit three home runs.

"Nobody is going to sleep on Shawn," Beale said. "I would imagine he is one of the best juniors in the state. He's a five-tool prospect. He's also leader in the clubhouse."

But both stepped it up during the Knights' second-round matchup with third-ranked Hardaway.

Raborn hit a pair of doubles to help Evans win Game 2, after losing Game 1. Ward then hit a bases-loaded walk-off triple in the bottom of the seventh to give the Knights an 11-10 win in the deciding game.

"I was just real focused when I went up to hit," Ward said. "I saw a good pitch and hit it hard. I think we are a very dangerous lineup right now. I wouldn't want to face us."

Reach Jonathan Heeter at (706) 868-1222 or jonathan.heeter@augustachronicle.com.