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Posted: October 11, 2011 6:35 p.m.

For openers

Newton, Eastside open first round of state softball playoffs

Two of the three county softball teams made the postseason after earning one of the four available slots in their respective region tournaments. Newton travels to Valdosta to play Region 1-AAAAA champion Lowndes while Eastside opens up the Class AAA playoffs hosting Harlem.

Both teams will go as far as their starting pitching takes them. For Newton, that’s the biggest question. Without a staff ace, the Lady Rams still managed to put together a solid season. They finished fourth in the region and are in the state playoffs for the third straight time under head coach Virginia Waters. Letice Albert has been a pleasant surprise in the circle as she’s taken on the role of Newton’s primary pitcher. She’ll face a Lowndes team that is coming off its second region championship in as many years.

Lowndes features a shutdown ace in Ashley Chapman. A senior, Chapman struck out 14 and limited Tift County to just one hit in the region title game. Chapman threw a pair of one-hitters during the tournament.

Pitching will also be key during Eastside’s three-game series with Harlem. The Lady Eagles are the No. 2 seed out of region 4-AAA based on their runner-up finish to Locust Grove in last week’s tournament. Eastside had been red-hot, winning seven straight, before dropping its last two games to the Wildcats on back-to-back nights.

 

But the real question for Eastside is who will lead them offensively? The Lady Eagles scuffled at the plate in the two tournament losses. Amanda Hawkins, Eastside’s best hitter a year ago, hasn’t put up the same type of power numbers she did and oft-used leadoff hitter Erin Steele struggled mightily late last week. But they aren’t the only ones who need to find their stroke. Emily Almand, Savannah Upshaw and Megan Hallock have been inconsistent at the plate as well. The one girl swinging a hot bat right now is Causey. She drove in the winning run against Jackson to propel the Lady Eagles into the second round of the region tournament and also had a key hit in Eastside’s win over Locust Grove a day later. Victoria Reich is coming off a three-hit game in the region finale and is also seeing the ball well.

Eastside welcomes a Harlem team that’s won 25 games. Eight of those wins were shutouts. They score seven runs a game while giving up two. Conversely Eastside scores five while giving up three.

Both series are best of three games. Newton plays its first game at 4 p.m. followed by game two at 6. Eastside plays game one at 5 p.m. followed by game two at 7. If necessary, both teams play a third game Thursday.

Everything starts with Taylor Causey in the circle. In the games Eastside won, and even the first loss to Locust Grove, Causey was effective despite missing most of the year with an injury. The problem for Eastside may be Causey’s stamina. She was unable to go in the region title game after pitching three straight nights and while Reese Rogers didn’t pitch poorly, she doesn’t have the same velocity and array of offspeed pitches Causey does.

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