Emanuel County Institute’s middle school baseball team may not have ended its season the way they wanted, but Head Coach John Hodges says this team has plenty to hang their hats on. The middle school Bulldogs fell to Screven County at home on Thursday, April 15, in the second round of the region playoffs despite having beaten the Gamecocks twice earlier this year. Still, ECI finished the year with an impressive 13-1 record—and the future is bright.
“We didn’t play very well and made some critical mistakes. We had opportunities to score runs and were not able to capitalize. It is a disappointing way to end a great season, but I am extremely proud of the way our team played and worked all season,” Hodges said. “Overall, I would say our season was a big success. We won more games this year than the last two years combined. I know the effort our players put in paid off because we could see definite improvement in them from the beginning of the season. More than wins or losses, our goal for these players was to help them become better people first and better ball players as well. I hope that our influence on them this year pushed them toward this goal.”
The team’s roster includes eighth graders Kanyon Thompson, James Parker, Oisin Matthews, Gabe Lee, Cayden Jones, Clayton Stripling, seventh graders Tyler Foreman, Johnny Baird, Jake Grimm, Tuff Boddiford, Max McBride, Jackson Kennedy, Brayden Rich, and sixth graders Turner Bryant, Davis Johnson, Ab Marsh, and Gunner Johnson.
En route to the playoffs, ECI had beaten Johnson County twice, 5-3 and 10-7; East Laurens once, 16-2; Swainsboro once, 12-3; Toombs County twice, 8-2 and 8-5; Screven County twice, 15-6 and 18-6; Jenkins County twice, 14-1 and 11-3; and Metter twice, 16-6 and 10-5.
The boys took on Claxton in the first round of the region playoffs on April 12, routing the Tigers 17-2.
“The eighth graders, they’re a very talented group,” Hodges said. “They are also going to bring [with them to high school] a mindset of doing everything with a lot of effort. The thing that we have tried to instill in them the past two years especially was to compete in everything they do and to work as hard as they possibly could at the task at hand. If this group is able to continue this mentality of effort, hard work, and competition, I believe they can be a special group and help the strong players that our high school program already has.”
When asked about what next year looks like, Hodges continued, “I’m not exactly sure. We’re losing a strong eighth grade group. We’ll have to have our current seventh graders step into leadership roles. Our current sixth graders will also have to be ready to contribute as well. These two groups have some talented ball players that are willing to work to improve. If they are able to get stronger and improve their skills, we could be in the same position again next year. I wouldn’t bet against them because I have seen the effort and determination they play with.”