Like much of the country, the Long County Blue Tide baseball team saw its 2020 season cut short last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the entire world. For Long County, however, it took away much more than just your run-of-the-mill baseball season.
The Blue Tide was in the midst of a historic season with the team standing at 14-1 and ranked second in the GHSA AAA classification with a real shot at winning the Region 2 title and competing for a state championship. Their lone blemish was a 3-1 neutral site loss to AA Gilmer early in the year.
“It was disappointing for sure,” head coach James Hobbs said. “...I felt like we were just starting to click as a team with a three-game sweep over Tattnall County to start region play. But, most of all, I hated it for our five seniors. I knew when I first took the job 3 years ago, that when they were seniors, it was going to be a special season and we were going to have a good chance for a deep playoff run. Can’t speak enough about these seniors and their leadership. So I really hurt for those guys.”
Their incredible start to the 2020 season was thanks to the talent the Blue Tide was able to field. The team does lose those seniors, including Ethan Williams and Luke Wells who both remained teammates at the collegiate level at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro.
Despite losing two stars to college and three other key players - class of 2020 seniors Carlos Cruz, Matt Marchand, and Allen Crystal - the team should
be even better this year. All four returning seniors - TJ Criswell, Noah Kuhaneck, Trevor Ray, and Ethan Wells - were recently named to the Georgia Dugout Club Preseason AAA All State Second Team and the team also has a talented group of underclassmen as well.
“We have a strong group returning this year,” Hobbs said. “We have three of our four big arms back this year with seniors Criswell, Kuhaneck, and Ray. These three guys were dominant last year on the mound. In the field, we have Wells (aka The Machine), who has been solid at shortstop for us the past two years. We also have a strong group of juniors with Joseph Cammack, Blake Holland, Dwayne Rowe, Cole Moss, Daniel Edwards, Brennan Lee, and Jacob and Seth Struble.”
With the team returning so many key players, there seems to be an air surrounding the team that shows they should be able to compete again in the 2021 season. Along with four players being named to the preseason All State team, the Blue Tide was ranked number 9 in the Georgia Dugout Club Preseason Poll and number 5 in the Coaches Box AAA Preseason Top 10.
However, competing for a region title, much less a state championship, will not be easy. Region 1-AAA, previously known as Region 2, has been long known as one of the toughest baseball regions in the state of Georgia. Ahead of the season closing down last year, Pierce County was 9-5 and Appling County was 6-4 with both teams ranked in the top ten as well.
“It’s no doubt one of the toughest baseball regions around,” Hobbs said. “Appling and Pierce are always strong and will be strong again this year with a bunch of their
players returning. And it doesn’t get any easier with Tattnall and Brantley, who are always scrappy and have tough ballparks to play at. The schedule is still set to play a threegame series in a week, so that adds another element to it too.”
With the 2021 season ready to swing into action, there are still questions about a possible nationwide shutdown with a new Presidential administration taking over soon. Coach Hobbs has that in the back of his mind, but with the team’s motto this season being “Unfinished Business”, he is preparing to just “go with the flow” and continue to expect big things from his team.
“As a team, we felt we were cut short last year, so we’ve been saying we have some unfinished business to take care of,” Hobbs said.
To go along with the preseason rankings, Hobbs said: “We have a great group of senior and junior leaders who have stayed motivated and worked extremely hard over the course of the year. So we are ready to get started. Like you said, we just hope we can play, because these guys deserve it.”
The Blue Tide baseball team holds its annual intersquad scrimmage on Saturday, February 6, an away scrimmage against McIntosh County Academy on February 12 and their home regular season opener against Metter on February 16.