Thursday’s game was especially significant for the retiring coach, who, for the final time, took the field at the school he spent the better part of three decades at.
“I don’t know if (my thoughts were) any different than the first time (I stepped off the bus here),” said an emotional English as he fought back tears following Kell’s 5-0 win over Osborne. “It was tough. It’s a great school, and they’ve done a great job here. The facilities are nice.
“We had some good years here, and I coached some great kids. It’s always fun to come back. I’m glad to be here, but it’s always been tough coming over here. There are a lot of memories.”
He shared one last memory at the Donnie English Complex — which houses fields for Osborne’s baseball and softball teams, both of which English coached — as his Longhorns beat the Cardinals in Region 7AAAAA play.
Brice O’Brien batted
3-for-4 with a triple, RBI and scored twice for Kell (12-6, 9-4), which kept its state playoff hopes alive with the victory. Brady Smith was 1-for-3 with a walk and a two-out, two-run home run in a three-run fifth inning.
Jamari Moore’s sacrifice fly in the third plated Adam Pedraza, who led off the inning with a walk and stole the next two bases. Bradley Taylor’s groundout in the seventh scored O’Brien for the final run.
“We have a chance to make the playoffs, and every game is important to us,” English said. “If we lose more than two games this go-around, it might be tough for us to make the playoffs. Every region ballgame is important for us.”
Osborne (2-13, 1-13) didn’t make it easy. The Cardinals’ Andrew Loos allowed five runs — two earned — on six hits and struck out five in a complete game. The unearned runs occurred in Kell’s three-run fifth.
Logan Charles, Matthew Salyers and Brian Ammons recorded hits for Osborne, while several other players made solid contact, only to record outs.
“Two earned runs isn’t bad after the way Kell beat us earlier this season,” Osborne coach Sheldon Bulluck said, referring to an 18-1 loss last month. “Loos pitched an excellent game. That’s the first complete game for one of our pitchers this year against a region team. The kid has a lot of heart. He’s only a sophomore, but I wanted him on the mound (Thursday) going against a legendary coach like English.”
Smith’s performance was just as strong, as he gave up three hits and struck out eight.
“Osborne did a great job. No doubt about it,” English said. “The last time we played them, we beat them real bad, but those guys did a great job over there. We just weren’t ready to play when we got over here. It took us a while to get used to the pitcher, and then we finally got a few hits. You have to hand it to those guys over there. They played us tough and did a great job.”
Thursday’s effort from Osborne was reminiscent of the attitude English’s teams had during his tenure at the Cardinals’ helm. He spent 29 seasons at the school before leaving in 2002 to coach at Douglas County. He spent two years there before returning to Cobb County to take over at Kell.
English, who won six region championships at Osborne, has several fond memories of his time there, but mostly he remembers the players and parents who made it all worth while.
“I’ll take away the kids I coached here and the parents,” he said. “It was a community thing. They got behind us when I was over here. We had some tremendous games and we played in a lot of region championships. There were a lot of tournaments here, and it was a real good time.
“Kell is very much like Osborne was back in the ’70s and ’80s. I’ve been (at Kell) for almost 10 years now. We have some talent. We had some good teams and some good players. We got some guys playing minor league ball just like we did when we were (at Osborne).”
English’s most successful product from his time at Osborne was Todd Jones, a 1986 graduate of the school who went on to spend 16 seasons as a relief pitcher with eight major league teams. English has also had nine products of his Kell teams drafted.
For all the talent he has produced, English believes his Osborne teams could’ve achieved more.
“Back then, we were playing a classification up,” he said. “The county wanted to keep all of the schools in the same region. They would have probably won some state championships there if (Osborne) played in the correct classification. Winning region was fantastic, but we could have probably done better if we had been in the classification we belonged in.
“Fortunately for our kids, I’m glad we were where we were because we got to play against better competition, and that made them better players.”
Bulluck, who is in his second season as Osborne’s coach, hopes to emulate the type of success English had when he coached the Cardinals.
“I heard how great English was as a person and a coach when he was here, and he’s held in high regard by everyone,” Bulluck said. “I just want to pick up where he left off. All of the awards we have are from his era, and I respect what he’s done.
“I’m trying to bring back that pride, and I respect what he built here. We think we can win here again, and it’s an honor to have coached against him.”