Terrell Academy baseball players, from left, Kyle Sellers, Dalton Dedge and Charlie Maxwell, kneel on the edge of the infield grass between innings at a recent game. The Eagles are two wins away from playing for a GISA Class AA state championship. (Photo: Misty Maxwell)
DUBLIN — It started with a challenge.
More than a month ago as the Terrell Academy baseball team was struggling in the early moments of the season, Ashley Walker dared the Eagles to reach for something higher.
“I had a conversation with the guys about getting back in the playoffs and trying to make another run at this thing,” said Walker, the head coach of the Eagles who watched his team lose in the state quarterfinals the past two seasons. “I challenged them to get out of the quarterfinals. I challenged them to get to the Final 4 and give us a chance to play for a state championship.”
The Eagles (15-10) never lost sight of the challenge and are back in the GISA Class AA state semifinals for the first time since 2009 after beating Gatewood in last weekend’s quarterfinals. Terrell is on the road again for the Final 4 and will travel to Dublin to face Trinity Christian in a best-of-three series that begins today with a doubleheader at 2 p.m.
A victory would take the Eagles — who started the season with a grim 2-5 record — to heights not even they could have imagined two months ago.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t expected to be where we are now. No one expected us to be here,” senior first baseman Dalton Dedge said. “Just to be at the point we are at now is an unbelievable feeling. It’s good to know that our hard work has paid off.”
Since that rough beginning, the Eagles have won 13 of 18 — including seven of their last nine — and are playing their best baseball of the season.
“We are peaking at the right time,” Walker said. “We are playing good baseball right now, and I hope that can continue this series. We are peaking in every facet of the game right now.”
Pitching, hitting, fielding — it’s all working right now for the Eagles, who knocked off Region 1-AA No. 1 seed Gatewood in three games and will try to upset another region champion in Trinity Christian, which emerged out of a tough Region 2-AA.
Senior Charlie Maxwell and his teammates insist they aren’t scared.
“I am pretty confident,” Maxwell said. “Everybody is feeding off each other right now. It’s like a chain reaction.”
Maxwell is part of a Terrell pitching staff that has been steady all season and was an anchor earlier in the year when the bats were cold.
Junior Jordan McDaniel is the ace and is unbeaten in the postseason with Game 1 wins against Griffin Christian and Gatewood; Maxwell has taken the mound in Game 2 of each series; and freshman Jared Donalson shut down Gatewood in Game 3 with a two-hit shutout.
It’s a three-headed pitching machine that Walker calls the “rock of our rotation.”
“They have been the steady force that has kept us in ball games and won a lot of ball games,” Walker said. “Jordan has kind of been our ace all year. Charlie has been a staple in our system who has gone out there and pitched and been very competitive on the mound. He has been the leader of our pitching staff this year. And Jared has stepped up and taken on a role as a dominant guy on the mound.”
The pitching has been there all year for the Eagles, but it’s been their hitting that has made them a threat in the postseason.
In their four playoff victories, the Eagles have averaged 11 runs per game and have been led at the plate by Maxwell, Dedge, Gavin Sloan, Alan Stewart and Jared Sauls.
“The biggest thing with them is that they are having fun,” Walker said. “We are relaxed and have a good attitude about ourselves. They are having a blast right now, and that’s the key for us. We are relaxed, having fun and playing baseball the way it should be played.”
After graduating six starters from last year’s Elite 8 team, not many thought the Eagles would make an even deeper run this season.
“But I think everybody knows our name now,” Maxwell said. “Winning this would mean the world to me. It’s what I have been working for, for four years. We are really playing as a team. And if we win it, it would mean the world to us.”