COVINGTON, Ga. — Relatively smooth waters turned choppy this week for Eastside.
Coming in riding a six-game winning streak, the No. 10 Eagles stumbled their way to back-to-back losses against Region 8-AAAAA foe Walnut Grove on Tuesday and Wednesday. The first meeting saw Eastside falter late in a 9-6 defeat, while the Warriors pounced early the second time around in a 13-1 triumph.
Walnut Grove’s offense flourished unlike any other club has against Eastside’s pitching staff this season. Prior to giving up 22 runs to the Warriors in just two days, the Eagles had surrendered 27 total runs over their previous 11 games.
“We’ve just got to get better. That’s all there is to it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it; we’ve got to get better,” Eastside head coach Brandon Crumbley said. “It’s high school baseball. Some days it’s your day, some days it’s not your day. It hasn’t been our day these last two days.”
The Eagles (16-7, 6-4) have now lost back-to-back games for the third time this year. They haven’t dropped three consecutive contests since enduring a five-game skid against Whitewater, Houston County, Morgan County and Ola last February.
Eastside came out swinging on the road Tuesday evening.
With two outs away and a pair of runners on, Bryce Burgess notched an RBI single to center field to score the game’s first run. Sambo Button followed suit with an RBI single of his own. Burgess later stole home before Hunter Denny singled to right field to drive in Button and give the Eagles a 4-0 advantage.
Eastside left-hander Cade Mitchell stepped on the mound with a healthy cushion and went to work. He mowed through the Walnut Grove lineup for two innings, striking out four batters in the process. But in the third inning, the Warriors (16-7, 8-2) found a crack.
They began to wedge it open.
It began with Braxton Brooks’ line-drive double to right field. Colby Hogan drove Brooks in to get his club on the scoreboard, and Josh Johnson later followed with a two-run double to pull Walnut Grove within 4-3.
In the fifth inning, which would prove to be the final frame of Mitchell’s outing, Brooks got on base with a leadoff walk. He moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt and raced to third on a passed ball before trotting home to tie the game on Coby Wilkerson’s one-out single.
Eastside reclaimed the lead in the top of the sixth inning as Button and Denney scored on a pair of passed balls. In the home half of the frame, however, the Warriors struck for five runs of their own off Eastside’s bullpen to storm out to a 9-6 lead. The offensive fireworks came courtesy of a Tyler Williams sacrifice fly, a fielding error that allowed three runs to score and a Darrin Parker RBI double.
Walnut Grove’s late-game offensive heroics carried over into Wednesday’s rematch at the Eagle’s Nest.
The Warriors began the game by bookending a hit-by-pitch with a pair of singles, the latter of which came off Wilkerson’s bat and scored the game’s first run. They proceeded to drive in five runs off five hits and chase Eastside left-hander Holden Hall from the game after just 2/3 of an inning.
Walnut Grove continued to be relentless, tacking on a pair of runs in the second and three more in the third and fourth innings, respectively, en route to a 12-run victory in five innings. They finished the day with 15 hits, outhitting the Eagles 21-13 over two days.
Despite the setbacks, Eastside still remains in prime position to lock down a spot in the Class AAAAA state playoffs. They entered Friday in fourth place in the region with a two-win advantage over Jackson County (15-9, 4-6) and four region games left in the year.
“We still control our own destiny,” Crumbley said. “We can’t sit here and hang our hat on this one. We’ve got to go to work next week. We’ll just take it, move forward and keep getting better.”
Eastside will dip out of region play Monday, April 12, when it travels to Jones County for a 5:30 p.m. contest. The Eagles will then resume their league slate with a home-and-home series against Jackson County on Tuesday (away) and Thursday (home), with both games slated to begin at 5:55 p.m.