Retiring Columbia High School baseball coach Steve Dennis’s 2017 baseball squad elevated him to an elite status on Wednesday as the Eagles’ 7-5 victory over Arabia Mountain gave him his 400th career victory overseeing the Columbia program.
Dennis, a member of the GACA Coaches Hall of Fame, stands at 400-324-5 in his 29 years leading the Eagles’ baseball program and is second all-time in wins in DeKalb County behind Hall of Famer Marvin Pruitt who was 447-252 in stops at Lakeside, Stephenson, SW DeKalb and Redan. Pruitt also coached at Rockdale County to have a career total of 510-333.
A 1983 graduate of the former Briarcliff High School in DeKalb County, Dennis returned to his home and took over the Columbia baseball program in 1989.
Columbia has reached the state playoffs on five occasions under Dennis in 1994, 2003, 2013, 2014 and now in his final campaign. He has also posted winning records in 14 seasons prior to 2017 including 1991 (11-10), 1994 (18-11-1), 1995 (15-6-1), 1996 (21-5-1), 2002 (13-10), 2003 (19-9), 2006 (14-12), 2007 (14-12-1), 2011 (16-10), 2012 (15-10-1), 2013 (18-6-2), 2014 (22-7), 2015 (21-9) and 2016 (15-11).
The victory over Arabia Mountain on Wednesday improved the Eagles’ 2017 record to 24-4 on the season setting a career high for wins in a season and Columbia season high surpassing his 2014 squad that finished 22-7.
Columbia jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning and never looked back in pulling out the key Region 5-AAAAA showdown at Arabia Mountain giving Dennis his big milestone victory.
Arabia Mountain and Columbia are now tied for first place in the 5-AAAAA standings with identical 11-2 records. The winner of today’s game at 5 p.m. at Columbia will secure the regular season league crown.
Dennis watched his Eagles erupt for five runs in the top of the fourth and one in the fifth to push their advantage to 7-0 in the battle at Arabia Mountain yesterday.
Coach Eric Hoxie’s Rams, however, never gave up, plating one run in the bottom of the fifth and four in the sixth to cut the margin to 7-5. Arabia Mountain would strand a runner in both the sixth and seventh innings in falling short in the comeback attempt.
Senior Jamal Huff shined brightest among many stars for Columbia, going 2-3 with a double and run scored offensively and also gaining the pitching triumph with 5 1/3 innings of strong effort. The right-hander struck out four and allowed six hits, five runs, two earned runs and five walks.
Junior Elijah Hammonds came on to put out the Arabia Mountain fire, throwing the final 1 2/3 innings in scoreless fashion with only two hits allowed.
Hammonds (2-4; 2 RS; 1 RBI; 2 SB) and senior Khalil Manuel (2-3; 1 RS; 3 SB) joined Huff as the primary offensive stars for a Columbia squad that finished with 12 hits overall.
Junior Jordan Sterling took the mound defeat for Arabia Mountain, allowing 12 hits and seven runs to go with three strikeouts and two walks over four innings. Junior Jalyn Hawkins turned in three stellar innings of relief, posting four strikeouts.
Columbia improved to 24-4 overall with the victory, while Arabia Mountain fell to 16-8 on the year.