By Anthony Rhoads
The backs of their practice jerseys said it all for the Union Grove baseball team this year - 'Respect.'
After enjoying two successful seasons in Class AA, the Wolverines moved up to Class AAAAA in 2005 and what they wanted more than just about anything else was respect.
The Wolverines achieved that goal this year as they finished second in Region 4-AAAAA. They swept Newton in the first round of state and Wednesday, the season came to an end after getting swept by Coffee.
"We achieved some goals this year," Union Grove head coach Vic Gongola said after the Coffee doubleheader. "We came into this region wanting respect and by golly, I think we got it."
Union Grove loses five seniors off this year's team including leading hitter Scott Mayo, Cole Williams, Billy Norman, Michael Wear and Hunter Stinchcomb.
"The seniors set the tone," Gongola said. "They did a great job; they worked hard this year."
Union Grove should be able to reload for next season as No. 1 pitcher Jeremy Riehn will return as well as second-leading hitter Justin Timbs.
Riehn was 8-3 this season and had an 1.26 ERA in 114 innings in the regular season.
"We earned the respect this year, now it's time to do something different," Gongola said. "We'll start this summer working on next year. We feel good about next year."
Union Grove's inaugural season was in 2001 and the team won just one game. Even though it was a struggle, Gongola saw that the team had potential to do good things in the future.
"That's why I came here because I knew the potential was here because it's Henry County baseball," Gongola said. "You look at the high school programs in this county, Eagle's Landing, Stockbridge, Henry County and the youth leagues; it's a good county for baseball. And I think we're on our way; our ninth grade and j.v. teams had good years and we have a good eighth-grade class coming up. It takes time to put the pieces together and we're building something here."
Two years after the team's first season, the Wolverines earned their first trip to the state playoffs by taking second place in Region 5-AA. They advanced to the second round of the playoffs where they fell to Adairsville.
Last year, they finished second again in Region 5-AA but lost in the first round to Calhoun.
Henry, ELCA still alive: Henry and Eagle's Landing Chrisitan Academy are the only local teams remaining in the state baseball tournament.
Henry County swept Statesboro Wednesday to advance in the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Eagle's Landing Christian swept Temple Wednesday to advance to the quarerfinals of the Class A state tournament.