RANTOUL — The Rantoul Eagles baseball team went to Alabama to participate in the 2019 Gulf Shores High School baseball tournament over the spring break. The tournament included over 40 high school baseball teams from all around the country.

The Eagles started the tournament last Monday with a 13-0 loss against Deshler Tigers.

The Eagles had a doubleheader the following Tuesday, winning 5-4 the first game against the Eufala Tigers and then losing the second 11-0 against the Homewood Patriots.

In their final game that was on last Wednesday, the Eagles lost 9-1 against the Chilton County Tigers.

“Once we got down there we saw right away that there was some very good competition,” Rantoul coach Jon Donovan said. “With the Alabama teams we saw, they were very similar throughout the lineups. Offensively everybody could swing it really well.”

During the Eagles game against Homewood, Donovan saw something he had not seen before as a high school baseball coach.

“They used aggressive offensive bunting,” Donovan said. “It made us very vulnerable, which made me as a coach have to become a lot better moving forward because I had never seen it before. It reminded me of Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinal baseball teams, where they would bring you in defensively to bunt and then move you back. It was a learning experience for us that day.”

In its four games, the Eagles scored only five runs with a total of 12 hits, averaging about three hits each game.

“Some of the things that I was concerned about before the year started was offense production,” Donovan said. “Last year we lost two guys who made a little over 60 RBIs for our team.”

Donovan said another issue for his team to work on would be the defense behind the pitcher. The Eagles averaged almost four errors a game in the tournament.

“We talked as a team today at practice about some defensive situations that we have to get better at,” Donovan said. “Moving guys into positions that are going to allow us the best chance at success.”

Donovan liked what he saw with his pitchers. In the team’s 5-4 win against Eufala, Adam Crites pitched all seven innings, giving up four runs and striking out five batters.

“Crites gave us seven strong innings and threw 100 pitches,” Donovan said. “ We just as a group backed him up and did everything we could to give him a win that day, which we did.”

Donovan said that for his team, the Gulf Shores tournament was a wake-up call, as well as a learning experience that showed them that there is room for improvement.

“We went down there thinking ‘Hey we are 3-0, and we are pretty good,’” Donovan said. “After that first game, I think it was an eye-opener for the guys. They understand that they’ve got a lot to work if we are going to be competing against the better teams in the area this year. But it gave them a lot of confidence coming back home because they are hungry.”

The spring break trip was a first for the Rantoul baseball program and took a lot of preparation from parents and members of the Rantoul community.

“It was a community-wide effort,” Donovan said. “The program was just thankful to have the opportunity to get down there. That opportunity is not even going to happen if it weren’t for the efforts of parents and community involvement.”

Next up for the Eagles (4-3) will be a home game at 4:30 p.m. today against Danville at Wabash Park. 

Contact Ben Theobald at btheobald@rantoulpress.com