RINGGOLD, Ga. - The two sides to Eric Beagles were butting heads Monday evening. The veteran coach's Heritage High School baseball team had just been handed a 11-0 loss to powerhouse Cartersville, easily the Generals' worst game since the second week of the season.
The pessimist in Beagles saw a team that didn't put out a good effort in what could have been a breakthrough win. The optimist in him realized the goal of reaching the Class AAA playoffs still rested squarely in the Generals' hands.
At 14-8 overall and 11-7 in 7-AAA following Thursday's win over Southeast Whitfield, Heritage controls its own destiny with a week left in the regular season.
"It' s hard to tell with us, because every day we come out here - and that includes all the practices - at times our mental toughness is not what it needs to be," Beagles said. "Being able to play quality people and be competitive gives you that, but until we can do that on a consistent basis we still have work to do in that area."
Region 7-AAA boasts three of the state' s top teams in Ringgold, Cartersville and Allatoona - teams that have given Heritage six of its seven league losses. The Generals lost 3-2 to Ringgold and 6-4 to Allatoona last week.
The Generals, who had won nine of their previous 10 games, are tied with Gilmer County for the fourth and final playoff spot. Heritage defeated the Bobcats in their first meeting and the two will face each other next Thursday for what could be a showdown for that final playoff berth.
"We need to come out with a renewed sense of urgency, because this is such a big week for us," Beagles said following the Cartersville loss. "The bad news is we just got run-ruled 11-0, but the good news is we get to go right back out there tomorrow and make amends. Knowing what we are up against with four games this week, if we can go 3-1 it would be a great week."
Ringgold coach Brent Tucker sees a Heritage team capable of doing some damage if it does make the playoffs. Tucker's Tigers made it to the state championship series after a third-place regular-season finish a year ago.
"Heritage has a lot of talent, and Eric's been in this situation before and knows what that team needs to do," Tucker said. "They've got three quality pitchers and lately they've been hitting for a lot of power. I'm glad we got to play them early."
The Generals' rotation includes three veteran starters in Jake Sampson, Cody Sherlin and Jake Raines; and Sampson, Jordan Liles and catcher Hunter White lead a powerful lineup that has scored 10-plus runs seven times in the past month. White, a junior three-year starter, sees a team that is very close to being a dangerous playoff team.
"We're very close and we know we can compete with the best teams," he said. "We just need to get over the hump. We all have confidence, and we all have the talent and drive. We just have to put it all together. This is a tough region with those three top teams. We' ve played competitively against all of them, and if we make the playoffs we will have some confidence knowing that."
Beagles agrees, though he can' t afford to look too far ahead.
"When you play the likes of those top-tier teams - they're all tremendously well coached and have great offenses and pitching - it's a pretty doggone good litmus test if you do get there," Beagles said. "Our problem right now is getting there.
"We can't assume anything, but if we do we'll be prepared for the good teams we'll face."