Bayshore Christian baseball coach Jeff Hauge admits even he has been surprised by his team’s quick rise to prominence in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
“I can’t lie,” he said. “It has come quicker than even I thought it might.”
RELATED: State baseball playoff pairings
The Eagles surprised the state by winning the 1A title a year ago in the first season they were eligible to win it.
Hauge’s team is 23-5 this year, has been ranked No. 1 all season in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll and hosts Berry on Thursday at Coastal Church in Daphne in the state quarterfinals. The best-of-3 series was originally scheduled to start Friday but was moved back due to the threat of rain.
The strength of the team?
“The word that comes to mind is brotherhood,” Hauge said. “This team pulls for each other and wants to be successful as a group. It isn’t about just one individual.”
Though Bayshore Christian, which is located in Baldwin County, hasn’t been a traditional power in the AHSAA, Hauge has been steadily building the baseball program over most of the past decade.
The Eagles are in their eighth year of competition, having played in the Panhandle Christian Conference for five years before transitioning to the AHSAA.
The team finished runner-up in that conference in Year 2 before winning back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018. Bayshore made the move to the AHSAA in 2019 and served a two-year probationary period.
Ironically, it was the COVID-shortened year of 2020 when Hauge first saw the team step up to the AHSAA level of competition.
“That year, we were able to beat Gulf Shores, which was No. 10 in Class 6A at the time,” Hauge said. “That is when I kind of thought we had arrived as a program. We have great respect for Gulf Shores as a program and what coach (Chris) Jacks has done there, so I thought if we could compete with a team like that we were in pretty good shape.”
The Eagles were 6-2 that season with a 5-1 record in one-run games.
“They were learning how to win and learning how to win on the AHSAA level and that is so important,” he said. “We were winning in the Panhandle Conference, but this was a different feel.”
The year ended too suddenly due to the pandemic.
That Bayshore team included five seniors. Hauge recites their names today without pause.
Sam Malone, Nathan Vincent, Ollen Brown, Hunter Hardy, Max Jones.
“They set the table,” Hauge said. “They did not like to lose. They were a special bunch.”
Last year’s team went 28-9 and won the state title by pounding Donoho in the final two games of the championship series.
The Eagles lost just one player off that team – second baseman Luke Werneth – and have turned the page from winning the school’s first state baseball title to defending it.
“I stole a line from Nick Saban,” Hauge said. “I tell the guys all the time that this team hasn’t won anything. We’ve got to stay hungry and keep working hard.”
The players have embraced that concept.
“After we won our first-round series on a Thursday, we had prom on Friday night,” Hauge said. “I told the guys if they came in and hit a little bit, I would give them Saturday and Sunday off. They said, ‘No coach. We want to practice Saturday and we want you to make it a hard one.’ That’s the mindset of this team. So, we practiced hard.”
Hauge said the team has been pretty consistent in all three phases of the game.
Bayshore has three players hitting .400 are better in reigning 1A Player of the Year John Malone (.481, 4 homers, 37 RBIs), Cole Dean (.446, 28 RBIs) and Mikael Bryant (.418, 28 RBIs). The team’s lone senior, Cooper Schultze, is hitting .366 with 30 RBIs. The pitching centers around Streed Crooms (7-0, 1.30 ERA), Malone (7-1, 1.32 ERA, 53 Ks) and Bryant (3-2, 3 saves, 1.14 ERA).
“I think it’s been more challenging this year in a lot of ways,” Hauge said. “It’s easier being the predator than the prey so to speak. Teams are after you now. They are shooting for you. The good part is we get to see a lot of team’s best pitchers and that helps us in the postseason. We’ve tried to strengthen our schedule. I’ve got guys who want to play on the next level, and we want to see top-notch competition.”
Bayshore has some hurdles most teams don’t face. The Eagles don’t have a true homefield, playing most of their games at Coastal Church – approximately 20 minutes from the school campus. Earlier in the season, when sun went down around 5 p.m., that made for some shorter practices and some needed adjustments.
Still, Hauge isn’t complaining.
“We are thankful to the Lord for His provisions with our baseball program and our players have embraced all the challenges and have used them as motivation,” he said.
The 2022 journey isn’t over obviously. The Eagles will have to beat Berry (14-8) this week and then either Sweet Water (14-17) or Millry (22-12) in the semifinals just to get to the championship series in Oxford/Jacksonville.
“We have to play good, hard-nosed Bayshore baseball,” Hauge said. “That will give us a chance for another blue map. There are still some great teams out there that we have to go through. We will have our hands full.”
CLASS 1A QUARTERFINAL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
Sweet Water (14-17) at Millry (22-12), Thurs., May 5, 4:30 and 7 p.m. (Fri., 4 p.m., if needed)
Berry (14-8) at Bayshore Christian (23-5), Thur., May 5, 1 and 3 p.m. (Fri., 4 p.m., if needed)
Appalachian (24-4) at Lindsay Lane (24-6), Fri., May 6, 2 and 4:30 p.m. (Sat., 1 p.m., if needed)
Covenant Christian (16-7) at Donoho (19-5), Thurs., May 5, 2 and 4:15 p.m. (Fri., 3 p.m., if needed)
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