PREP SOFTBALL: Eastside trounces Hephizbah, moves on to second round of state
Dani Fairey takes a swing at a pitch during Eastside's first round state tournament rout of Hephizbah Wednesday night. The Lady Eagles will move on to host round two next Wednesday. - photo by Tyler Williams
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COVINGTON, Ga. — The Eastside Eagles softball team picked up right where it left off in last week’s region tournament domination to roll past Hephzibah in two three-inning games with scores of 15-0 and 17-0 respectively to advance to the second round of the Class AAAA GHSA state tournament. 

“We wanted to come into the game and swing the bats and play good defense right away,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “We knew we couldn’t sit back on anyone even though we played a fourth seed because anything can happen in the playoffs.”

Indeed, the Eagles did not relax against the fourth seeded Lady Rebels.

Game one got underway with three strikeouts from sophomore pitcher Kailey Rusk, and then the Eagles did what they do best: wear down the opposing pitcher with a barrage of hits.

It started with a double from Rusk. From there, a tremendous bunt by the team’s only senior Mckenzie Walker got the Eagles in scoring position. After a big hit resulted in a double from Jordan Rittenbacher, the Eagles were on the board first, 2-0.

The multiple hits, steals and scores that came after were similar to last week’s feat of making it through their entire lineup in one inning — something Eastside also accomplished more than once Wednesday night. 

The bottom of the second is where the runs began to add up quickly.

With two runners on base, and an already commanding 9-0 lead, Rusk would launch a three-run shot over the right-center field fence. That was followed by a triple from Walker that would eventually put two more runs on the board. 

When the dust settled at the end of the second, they were sitting pretty with a 14-0 lead. Kelsey Ellis would run in the last score of the run-ruled game in the third inning off a wild. 

The game two performance was just as dominating.This time Dani Fairey took the mound and nothing changed on the defensive side for the Eagles. Fairey fanned six batters of her own and only allowed one hit and a walk, giving her and Rusk and total of 15 strikeouts in the two contests. 

“She (Fairey) really stepped up for us in game two,” Wood said. “I thought she did a good job keeping their hitters off balance. Both of them throwing shut out games in the playoffs is not an easy task, so I think for them to come out and shut out a team like that is a good boost going into next week.”

Fairey thinks she and Rusk can continue to be a dominant duo force on the mound throughout the playoffs. 

“Kailey and I truly complement each other with our different styles of pitching,” she said. “We can keep the batters off balance.”

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Sophomore Kailey Rusk, along with Dani Fairey, paced Eastside both at the plate and in the pitcher's circle Wednesday against Hephizbah. - photo by Tyler Williams

With game two being their chance to end the series and advance, the Lady Eagles continued their hot hitting streak.

Rusk started the game with another double, and more stolen bases and big hits, including a triple from Rittenbacher, and just like that, the Eagles were off to an easy 4-0 lead after one. Fairey would strikeout two of her three batters to give the Eagles another round of what looked like a typical batting practice for them.

Alysee Dobbs, Fairey, and Ellis all would drive in runs before Walker nearly hit a grand slam that bounced off the fence. The near-homer brought in two more runners. At the end of two innings, the lead was once again 14-0. 

After another three runs were added in the third, the complete dominance was finally over, and the Eagles were celebratory in the fact that they’re moving on.

“It feels good (advancing), considering how young our team is,” Fairey said. “I’m super proud of my team as well as our only senior Mckenzie Walker for being a good leader for us.”

And while the victory is sweet now, both Fairey and coach Wood know that there is work to do to keep winning. 

“Our plan is to focus on batting, because our defense is so strong,” Fairey said. “As long as we can hit we will win.”

For Wood, the wins won’t come as easy, so she wants to keep her team focused and ready at all times.

“From this point on, we are going to play top notch teams,” she said. “Our mindset has to change. We have to make some adjustments, and I have a group that can do that, so we should be ready to go.”

The Lady Eagles will host the winner of the Cairo vs Spalding series in more doubleheader action on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.