ELIZABETHTOWN — Coming off a stellar spring season, the Eagles baseball team will try to keep the momentum going with a team in the Dixie Youth Pre-Majors summer league.
East Bladen went 15-7 overall in the spring season and compiled an 11-3 mark in the Four County Conference — winning its first conference crown since taking the Three Rivers Conference title in 1997.
But before the summer season begins, the Eagles will say good-bye to graduates Alex Coates, Nikita Owens and Clark Derwood. Coach Ritchie Priest, however, says the team will have its leaders.
“We’ll have some good athletes and some with experience who will be the leaders on the team,” he said. “But this will also give some younger players a chance to get experience against good competition.”
Leading the Eagles is expected to be catcher Kyle Tatum, pitcher/shortstop Sincere Smith, pitcher/outfielder Xavier Wooten and pitcher/first baseman Ty Watkins. Priest is also relying on a pair of rising sophomores in Greyson Heustess and Shy Pone, both outfielders who are expected to start.
The competition this summer will be stiffer than recent seasons, since the DYB Pre-Majors will expend to include 16 teams spread among three divisions. The Eagles will play in a division with West Bladen, Lumberton, St. Pauls, Whiteville, South Columbus, West Columbus and East Columbus.
“Anytime you put Lumberton, Whiteville, West Bladen and St. Pauls in a division … well, that’s going to be some pretty good competition,” Priest said.
The other two divisions will be challenging, too. One will feature teams from the Wilmington area in Ashley, Hoggard, New Hanover and Lacey high schools; the third division will carry teams from North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Loris, S.C., North Brunswick and South Brunswick.
The season for East Bladen opens Tuesday when the Eagles will travel to take on East Columbus in a double-header starting at 6 p.m. There will be a total of 10 double-headers during the season, which will wrap up in late June with a league tournament before the state tournament begins in July for a berth in the Dixie Youth Pre-Majors World Series in Alabama.
“Right now we’re just wanting to keep the kids on the field to get as many at-bats, into as many game situations and throw as many innings on the mound as we can,” Priest said. “Getting them to play will hopefully help us when the next school season rolls around.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.