Going into their doubleheader Thursday against Collins, which had already been rescheduled several times, the East Marion Eagles needed to win once to secure a playoff spot and twice to earn the No. 3 seed from Region 8-2A.
East Marion (7-10) didn’t disappoint, sweeping the Tigers 17-2 and 13-3 to improve to 4-4 in district play and get the third seed. Head coach Mandell Echols said the key for the Eagles offense was their patience. He said they stopped chasing pitches, got into hitter’s counts and drove pitches when they got the chance to.
In Game 1, LJ Andrews shined at the plate with two triples, a single, 5 RBI, two stolen bases and three runs scored. Leadoff hitter Caden Mingo singled twice, stole three bases and drove in a run, and Kyler Collins singled twice and drove in a pair of runs.
What was even more impressive, though, was the Eagles beating West Marion 9-7 Monday night on the road. The Trojans are ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 3A, but Ja’Quarious Jones kept the Eagles in contention throughout and the offense did its part to get the win.
“That was huge. I think the boys’ confidence went up, and they saw, at their best, they can play with anybody because West is one of the top teams in the area,” Echols said. “I was proud of the fact that we usually have one inning where we implode, and that didn’t happen. We made an error or two here and there, but the boys actually picked each other up and wouldn’t let anyone get down.
After sweeping Collins and taking down one of the top teams in the entire state, not to mention a rival who was hosting its senior night, Echols said he’s very confident about his squad’s chances as it enters the postseason.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. We have the potential to compete and possibly win, so I’m sort of excited about the playoffs,” he said.
He added this is the best he’s felt about his team’s chances in the playoffs in four to five years.
Now the Eagles will turn their attention towards Enterprise-Clarke (17-11) for the first round of the playoffs that begin Thursday. Enterprise will host Games 1 and 3, if necessary, Thursday and Saturday, respectively, while East Marion will host Game 2 Friday.
What the Bulldogs lack at the dish — a team batting average of just .229 with only two starters hitting above .300 — they make up for on the mound with a collective 2.42 ERA. However, that stellar ERA is a little skewed because they have allowed 50 unearned runs while committing 73 errors.
“Everybody I’ve talked to said they’re solid,” Echols said. “I think if we just come out and hit the ball and match their defensive play, I think we’ll be OK. If we hit the ball like we did (Monday) night, we can beat anybody.”
One storyline to watch is if East Marion can win one of its first two games against Enterprise to be able to throw Jones in Game 3. Because he threw 109 pitches Monday against West Marion, he cannot pitch again until Saturday. Echols said he plans to pitch Andrews in Game 1, Ka’Ron Weary, who earned the save against West Marion, in Game 2 and Jones in the rubber match. If the Eagles are able to sweep the series by winning Games 1 and 2, Jones would be able to start Game 1 next week in the second round.
With a series victory over Enterprise-Clarke, the Eagles would play either Union (14-10) or Bogue Chitto (12-15) in the second round.