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PREP SOFTBALL: Eastside soars past Walnut Grove in regular season finale
Eastside pitcher Kailey Rusk added 10 more strikeouts to her career total after eclipsing the 500 career strikeouts milestone last Thursday against Woodward Academy. - photo by Brett Fowler

WALNUT GROVE — It felt like a high stakes region game, but Monday night’s matchup between Walnut Grove and Eastside was nothing more than a friendly non-region contest with nothing really on the line.  

Despite nothing being at stake except pride, both teams battled it out late into the evening, but it was the Lady Eagles who came out on top by a final of 6-3 marking the first Eastside win over the Walton County school.  

“This is the first time we’ve beaten Walnut Grove,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “We all know what a powerhouse program they are and how fundamentally sound they are, so this is great momentum for us heading into the region tournament on Thursday.” 

Eastside’s Kailey Rusk picked up the win with an impressive pitching performance in the circle in which she threw all seven innings of the contest and recorded 10 strikeouts. 

“She battled through situations and had worked ahead in the count,” Wood said of her pitcher. “Her demeanor was great on the mound, and she really put us in a position to win.” 

For Walnut Grove, the contest helped serve as a tune-up game to get the Lady Warriors back up to speed before heading into a crucial region contest with Loganville Tuesday evening. Head coach Steven Foster’s team just completed a stretch of games where the competition level was significantly lower with the likes of Johnson-Gainesville and Cedar Shoals. 

“Not how I wanted to start the week, but I was glad we came out and played a competitive game,” Foster said. “We played three non-competitive games last week so we needed to get ready for (Tuesday). Obviously we don’t like coming out on the losing end, but I felt like our girls battled all game. We just have to make some adjustments.” 

Walnut Grove got on the board first in the bottom of the third with a deep centerfield single by Madi Perry that scored Kennedy Votava from second base. However, Eastside answered with a 3-run homer in the fourth to take the lead. 

The Lady Warriors were able to tie the game in the fifth with an in-the-park home run by Perry, but Eastside once again answered quickly with three more runs in the sixth to regain the lead and the win. 

“Definitely don’t want to lose a game, but I think there’s such thing as a positive loss and this was one of those,” Foster said. “It gave us the game speed we needed to get ready for Loganville. We just fell on the wrong side of the scoreboard today. Credit to (Eastside) they played well.” 

Eastside finished with 12 hits with Kendal McAuliffe, Aylsee Dobbs and Heather Henderson collecting multiple hits. Jordan Rittenbacher led the Lady Eagles with three RBIs. 

“We try to mix things up, but we always try work on our short game, and that’s something we will continue to do,” Wood said. “But we also swung at good pitches tonight and I thought we looked good at the plate. That’s something we’ve been working on and getting better about through the season.” 

The win improved Eastside to 17-6 as the Lady Eagles head into the Region 4-AAAA tournament this week.