A rough start for Eastside’s ace pitcher Laura Beshears didn’t get much easier, as the Eagles saw their season come to an end Wednesday night, thanks to a pair of losses to Oconee County in the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
Oconee County punched its ticket to Columbus by defeating Eastside 9-3 in game one and 11-2, after five innings, in game two of the best-of-three playoff series. The defeat happened by way of solid bats that rocked Beshears and freshman Kailey Rusk for most of the night.
Beshears, the Young Harris commit, recorded a half-dozen strikeouts in game one, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the hitting of Chloe Fambrough and Kaley Adcock who went 3-for-4 hitting with two doubles and two RBI in the pace-setting first contest.
Oconee’s hot hitting was aided by an uncharacteristically sloppy defensive effort from an Eastside squad that surrendered more than a half dozen errors on the night between both games.
“They put the pressure on, and we gave them a lot of opportunities due to our errors on defense,” said Eastside coach Heather Wood. “We got rattled and pretty much fell apart in many situations. Coming in we knew that our defense had to be strong. But unfortunately, we couldn’t make the plays we should have to stop the bleeding.”
Eastside tried to keep things close early in the first game, but Oconee County’s first runs proved to be an omen of things to come. They came in the top of the second inning when Beshears walked Oconee’s Hanna Manders. Then two consecutive wild pitches moved a runner to third base and then home to give Oconee a 1-0 lead.
The teams traded three-up-and-three-down innings, before Ally Allgood drove in a run in the bottom of the third, aided by an Oconee error, which tied the score at one. Rusk, a freshman, then smacked a double that drove in another run, putting Eastside up 2-1.
After Oconee tied it at 2 in the top of the fourth, Madison McCrorey knocked a single that ushered in Betts, giving Eastside a 3-2 lead.
That’s when things began to unravel.
In the top of the fifth, Beshears walked four of her first six batters and then served up a pitch that Keely Glenn smacked into left field to bring home two scores for Oconee County. Adock would later drive in two more runs with her bases-loaded smack, giving the Warriors a 7-3 lead at the end of the inning.
Oconee County capped the first game’s scoring when Hanna Manders’ single into the right-center gap generated two more runs against Rusk who entered the game in the sixth inning in relief of Beshears.
Game two offered more of the same, except Oconee took less time to put the Eagles away. Fambrough opened things up with a solo homer in the bottom of the first. Then brought home a second run on a sacrifice pop fly in the bottom of the third to give Oconee a 2-0 lead. On the very next at-bat, Hannah Patridge walked onto first after a wild pitch, which extended the Warriors lead 3-0.
And after Maura Grace Dickens’ double pushed the score to 4-0, Wood decided to shut down Beshears for the rest of the night. The bottom completely fell out shortly after when Kaitlyn Corral hit a big shot over an outfielder’s head with the bases loaded. A fielding error turned the hit into an inside-the-park grand slam homer which gave the Warriors a 9-0 lead.
They would add two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, while Eastside finally got on the board in the fifth inning, but couldn’t cut the deficit enough to prevent a run rule.
In the end, Wood was complimentary of her team’s effort, despite the sloppiness, and, perhaps looking ahead already to 2017, she heaped high praise on Rusk’s overall performance — particularly on the mound in the absence of injured senior pitcher Molly Moon.
“It did (hurt us) to have Molly out,” she said. “I knew that lack of depth would catch up to us. “But I think (Kailey) played well, given the circumstances, and hopefully she’ll learn from it and it will cause her to develop as well.”
As the team gathered for its final post game together, there was nothing Wood could say to stop the tears from flowing.
“They’re upset,” she said. “Each of them are taking the blame. And because so many of them chose not to play in college, it’s just really difficult.”
Wood said she made sure, however, to keep her last post game speech to her seniors positive.
“You never want to give that speech to the girls,” she said. “I imagine a lot of what I say goes in one ear and out the other. It’s difficult when they’re celebrating on your field. But I tried to reiterate to them, don’t let the season define you. We got to the second round again. We won a region championship. It’s just that somethings don’t work out the way you want them to. And that’s a life lesson as well.
“I just wanted to reiterate to them what we accomplished and how proud I am of them.”