On Tuesday it was Senior Night for the Eastside varsity softball team. Six seniors were honored before the game, each escorted onto the diamond by their parents to a thunderous applause.
Appropriately enough, two of those seniors came through in a big way during the game that followed against the Lady Red Raiders (19-9 overall, 10-1 Region 8B-AAAA) in a matchup of the region's top two programs.
In perhaps her most dominanting performance of the season, Eastside starting pitcher Brandi Richards struck out 18 batters. In addition, Laura Rodriguez drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out, sixth inning single, propelling the Lady Eagles (22-6-1, 10-1), 3-2.
After the win, Eastside head coach Heather Wood said her team had positioned themselves nicely for the postseason.
"Madison is a very solid team (and) very well-coached," said Wood, "so we knew that this wasn't going to be an easy win."
Wood added that she was pleased with the overall leadership by her seniors.
"I'm really proud of my seniors. I feel like they really stepped it up and came through for us tonight."
But perhaps no one stepped it up more than Richards. While she struggled with her control at times (five walks and one hit batter), her stuff was virtually untouchable when it was near the plate.
Richards surrendered only one hit over seven innings - a sixth inning single to Madison's Erin Gibson.
It was during that inning when Richards ran into her only trouble of the night.
With Eastside clinging to a 2-0 lead, Richards gave up a lead-off walk to center fielder Brittany Ellisor. After Madison shortstop Taylor Morgan struck out, the Lady Red Raiders mounted their rally.
Katie Bolin grounded to Eastside third baseman Brittany Harper, who threw wildly to second in an attempt to get the lead runner. Both players advanced on the error, putting runners at second and third with just one out.
Richards then walked Madison's Kendra Martin to load the bases before surrendering Gibson's RBI single to right. It scored Ellisor and cut Eastside's lead, 2-1. With the bases still full, Richards walked Madison pitcher Megan Kesler to tie the game, 2-2.
Facing a bases loaded, one-out situation late in the game, Richards did what she has done all season long. Relying on her sharp breaking curveball, she bore down and recorded back-to-back strikeouts, ending the threat and preserving the deadlock.
When asked after the game about her penchant for working herself out of trouble, Richards laughed and said, "Yeah . . . it's a sad pattern."
Fittingly, Richards helped her own cause by lining a single past the shortstop to start off the bottom of the sixth.
Eastside's rally, however, was nearly extinguished when Henderson flied out to right and Megan Kidhal hit into a 5-4 fielder's choice.
Fleet-footed Kayla Jones then entered the game, pinch running for Kidhal at first. Harper promptly singled to right, atoning for her error earlier in the inning.
Enter: Rodriguez, who calmly looked at a strike before stroking what would prove to be the game-winning hit, as Jones slid home just ahead of the throw.
That was all Eastside could muster, as Katie Herren flied out to right to end the inning. As it turned out, it was all Richards would need. When she struck out the side in the top of the seventh, the Lady Eagles had bested perhaps their toughest rival in region play.
"I wanted them bad," admitted Richards.