HARDY

East Jackson's Halton Hardy went 5-4 with a 2.21 ERA last year for the Eagles, who reached the state playoffs for the first time ever. Hardy is one of eight Eagle seniors this year. 

East Jackson’s head coach is new, but the players who take the field this spring won’t be.

The Eagle baseball team returns eight seniors from last year’s first-ever state playoff team as Scott Myers begins his tenure.

“I hope they can give us good senior leadership,” Myers said. “I think that’s going to be crucial for us. Those guys have got to lead by example.”

Myers points to the luxury of an accomplished senior class.

“It helps,” he said. “They’ve been there and done that. You’re not starting from the ground for sure.”

Myers, a former head coach at Flowery Branch, served as an assistant for one year under former coach Tedd Sims, who left East Jackson last year.

Myers said inheriting a large senior group starts with winning those players’ trust.

“Absolutely, you’ve got to win their trust,” Myers said. “They’ve got to feel trust in you and know that you’re there for them. That’s one thing I feel like I do pretty well is connect with kids … In practice so far, they’ve done a good job of buying in and working hard.”

The Eagles, who went 12-16 in 2019 and advanced to the first round of the Class AAA playoffs, will be spearheaded by a senior class that comprises Caleb Adair, Cole Sealey, Halton Hardy, Josiah Stansell, Sawyer Irwin, Jake Varner, Josh Compton and Jarrett Pursley.

Adair was a .444 hitter last year, while three others from that group hit over .300 — Cole Sealey (.393), Josh Compton (.379) and Jake Varner (.342). Dylan Varner, a junior this season, hit .306 in 2019. East Jackson batted an aggregate .311 last year.

“We need to score runs, for sure,” Myers said. “Everybody does, but we’ve got to be productive at the plate. We’ve got to have productive outs. We’ve got to move runners.”

On the mound, Hardy returns as the team’s ace, going 5-4 in 2019 with a 2.21 ERA, while Sealey (1-4, 2.63 ERA) and Compton (4-4, 3.99 ERA) also return from last year’s starting rotation.

“Our pitching is definitely going to be critical to getting guys out and keeping people off balance,” Myers said.

With the quality roster he inherited, Myers made a point of beefing up the non-region schedule, pitting his team against the likes of Cherokee Bluff (three games) and North Oconee (two games). Cherokee Bluff went 16-15 and reached the Class AAA playoffs in its first season of existence last year. North Oconee was 25-8, won Region 8-AAAA and reached the Final Four.

The Eagles also play crosstown opponent Commerce twice. The Tigers reached the Class A Public Elite Eight in 2019.

“With this (senior) class, we needed to schedule some higher-end teams,” Myers said.

One stride already made under Myers before even coaching a game is increasing the program’s numbers.

East Jackson will field a 16-member junior varsity program after not having one last year. The high school program has grown from 17 players to 32 between this season and last. Including the middle school team, East Jackson’s overall program is 45 players strong.

“We do have numbers, which is great,” Myers said. “We’ve just got to continue to try to develop that talent and keep those kids hungry.”

While those numbers bode well for the overarching vision of the program, the task at hand is making the most of this season with this senior group.

“I hate to say playoffs or bust, but we definitely want to make the playoffs,” Myers said. “That is definitely the expectation. Hopefully, looking down the road, that should be our expectation every year.”

With the season approaching, Myers said serving as a head coach once again has “been fun.”

“I realize now that I’m a little older than I was back then, but it’s been fun,” he said. “I don’t coach any different now than I did last year or when I was a head coach … Having that group back and the opportunity to make something special with a group of kids that had some success … to be on the cusp of something maybe great, absolutely, that’s the exciting part of it as well.”

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