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Eagles keep playoff hopes alive
Austin Holloway  Big Ben Cleveland 2Web
Eastside's Austin Holloway looks back at the mound to see if he can take a lead in the Eagles' game against Stephens County. - photo by Miles Steele

The Eastside Eagles varsity baseball team (12-11, 7-6 Region 8-AAAA) hosted region leader Stephens County (16-4, 9-2 Region 8-AAAAA) Monday night, ending a five-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Indians.

The win kept Eastside’s postseason playoff hopes alive, while giving the Eagles a win over a quality opponent.

“This was a good team win and our guys rose to the occasion against a quality opponent,” Eastside coach Jon Ayres said.

The night started with senior ace Drew Buckhault making his 10 start for the Eagles.

Buckhault set down the top of the order one-two-three in the first inning as the Indians had trouble catching up to the 87 mph heat being thrown. Stephens did not fare much better in the second inning, but did get a man on board with a single.

Eastside got on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the second inning as sophomore Connor Hewell reached on a single through the right side of the infield, followed by a trio of walks by the Stephens County pitcher, pushing across a run.

The Indians came back and tied the game in the top of the third inning with a lead-off walk followed by a sac-bunt and a single, manufacturing the run and evening the score at 1-1.

Buckhault found himself in a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the fourth inning after giving up a double, hitting a batter and walking another. Buckhault regained his focus and got out of the inning with a pair of strikeouts and a putout at first, ending the threat.

The game remained tied at one run apiece through the middle of the fifth inning until Eastside sparkplug Austin Holloway led off the inning with a single followed by another single from the bat of Hunter Ballard.

A slight bobble by the leftfielder and some aggressive base running by Holloway and Ballard put runners at second and third for the Eagles.

With a suicide squeeze play called, senior Hank Steele delivered and put a high strike into play as Holloway crossed the plate. Steele legged it out to first and Ballard came in to score on the throw, giving Eastside a two-run advantage.

 “Hank’s execution in getting the bunt down and some smart, effective base running played a big part in tonight’s victory,” Ayres said. “Taking that lead late in the game gave us the momentum we needed.”

The Indians sent Big Ben Cleveland to the plate to begin the sixth inning. The 6-foot, 7-inch, 322-pound sophomore belted the first pitch delivered by Buckhault over the fence in centerfield for a solo homerun.

Stephens County continued its threat and soon had the bases loaded again with only one out. Buckhault was lifted in favor of Chase Raines and Raines got out the Eagles out of the inning with a single pitch, inducing a 6-4-3 double play. Buckhault’s numbers for his 5-1/3 innings of work were five hits and three walks while registering four strikeouts.

Eastside added a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth as a pair of walks were issued to the bottom of the line-up and Holloway collected an RBI on his second single of the night.

Raines finished the inning, getting the save as the Eagle defense turned another double-play behind him to bring the game to a close.

The Eagles return home on Wednesday for Senior Night against Monroe Area High School.