After not only back-to-back Class 1A state championships but also two consecutive player of the year honors, John Malone and the Bayshore Christian Eagles' story isn't quite finished yet.
With one more year left in green and white before becoming a Samford Bulldog, Malone and Bayshore Christian will adjust to the Class 2A circuit after the competitive balance factor promoted the Eagles in the recent biennial realignment of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Only one senior held a roster spot on Bayshore's 2022 team so the main core of players will return seeking similar success in the step up. Although the Eagles will have a target on their back, Malone said their opponents aren't the only ones with their sights set on fresh competition.
"They know us, but we know them too. We know GW Long is good. And I still feel like we're going to be doubted because people will say, '(You won but) that's 1A,'" Malone said. "I think we have a target on our back, but I think we have our target on other people as well. I'm looking forward to it, new competition is going to be exciting."
While they were on the Class 1A stage, Bayshore Christian lost only two playoff games last year then went undefeated through the 2022 postseason and Malone was chosen by the Alabama Sports Writers Association as the classification's player of the year both years.
According to unofficial stats from Joey Warner and the Mobile Baseball Connection, Malone put up a .495 average with 49 hits, four home runs, 43 RBIs and 52 runs at the plate as well as a 10-1 record on the mound with a 1.93 ERA with 79 strikeouts as a junior.
This year, he was also honored alongside three Eagle teammates in being named to ASWA's first-team all-state: junior classmates Mikael Bryant (infield) and Streed Crooms (utility), as well as freshman Cole Dean (designated hitter).
"I was glad to see us getting recognition. I was glad to see them getting recognition because they deserve it," Malone said. "I felt (some more) should have gotten at least second team or honorable mention, I was a little disappointed, I thought they should have been. But Mikael and Streed, I've been friends with them for so long and just to see them succeed is great."
Other close relationships that add to the tight-knit bond of the Bayshore Christian Eagles come from Malone's family tree in brother Jack and cousin Riley, the former of whom also serves as the catcher for the pitching staff.
"We've been doing it for a long time. Just playing, hitting lessons and going hitting with each other. I mean, I remember my older brother throwing to me and then Jack catching, but this was like when he was six," John said. "It's going back my whole life, him being the catcher and it just so happens that he's continued to be the catcher and has stayed there to be the catcher in high school and it's cool experience."
John had previously played alongside his older brother but the 2020 season was cut short due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taught him that things can come to a crashing halt at any moment.
"Going into senior year, I just never thought I'd get to this point. I never thought I'd be looking into a senior year, and it's crazy," John said. "I don't want to take any minute of practice for granted. Even something like bunt defense or something that seems more boring. I want to not take anything for granted and just have fun and enjoy baseball for the kids' sport it is. I have a lot of fun and enjoy the time with my friends and teammates, and I'm going to try and soak it all in."
When he graduates from Bayshore Christian, he'll head to Samford University, where he announced his commitment Oct. 22, 2021, and is sticking to his pledge.
"I really love Samford a lot and it's not just that I (get to play baseball)," John said. "It's bigger than baseball for me. I really like the school, I really like the academics and I think it's a great opportunity because an education from Samford is great."
He plans to major in sports marketing and if his first dream doesn't work out, he could see himself opening a training facility to help the next generation of top athletes.
"I'll give you the kid dream. I want to make it to the big leagues," John said of what he wanted to be when he grows up. "Right now if I'm being normal, I would love to play some level of professional ball, whether it's independent, minor leagues; whatever. I want to put on a professional team's jersey and at some point consider myself a pro. I just want to say, 'Hey, I played a little pro ball,' and then maybe open up my own facility and teach kids because I do like enlightening people. It's cool to see kids learn, that's what it's all about, kind of passing it on. If I learned something I want people to know it."
Aside from the numbers and championship trophies brought back to the Fairhope campus, John hopes his legacy is known for the things he did for his team off the field.
"I would love to have my name known, but I would like it to be for how I was, not because of what I did numbers-wise," he said. "I would love to just leave a legacy of, 'He was a leader, he led by example,' or something like that. That would just be the ultimate goal is to be remembered for something that is bigger than just numbers and state championships."