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PREP SOFTBALL: Lady Eagles falter late in loss to Jackson County
Eastside Softball
Eastside fell to Jackson County, 4-3, in a Region 8-AAAAA contest Tuesday night. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

JEFFERSON, Ga. — A back-and-forth, lightning-delayed affair between Eastside and Jackson County didn’t go the Lady Eagles’ way Tuesday night.

Having surrendered a pair of runs in the opening frame, Eastside eventually worked its way back into contention in the later innings of the Region 8-AAAAA contest. But the Lady Panthers continued to attack with timely hits and aggressive base running to pull out a 4-3 victory on their home diamond.

The Lady Eagles (4-2, 1-1) looked lethargic throughout the first half of the game. They gave up two quick runs, committed an abundance of errors and took an uncharacteristically reserved approach the plate. 

The lack of execution early on didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Heather Wood.

“I feel like the past three games we’ve really been going through the motions the first four innings,” Wood said. “What I’ve been trying to stress to the girls is that we are in a completely different region this year. This is one of the toughest regions in the state, and this year we don’t have a region tournament, so all of these games are crucial.”

Knotted up at two runs apiece in the fifth inning, Jackson County junior Whitney Hulsey ripped a two-out single up the middle to keep the frame alive. In the ensuing at-bat, sophomore Hailey Harpis punched a ball in play and induced a fielding error, resulting in a pair of runners in scoring position instead of an inning-ending groundout.

The blunder proved costly as junior Peri Foster turned on the second pitch she saw and lined a two-run triple to right field to give Jackson County (3-4, 1-2)  a lead it would never relinquish.

Eastside finished the night with three errors, translating directly to three out of Jackson County’s four runs.

“Those little details of the game count, and they can come back to bite you. They did this game,” Wood said. “We had some mental errors and things that shouldn’t have happened, so I feel like we really gave them the game.”

Despite the loss, freshman Dezaria Johnson continued to execute in the circle for the Lady Eagles. She finished the night having allowed four runs — only one of which was earned — on seven hits while issuing three walks and striking out six batters.

Eastside collected six hits as a club, just one fewer than its host, but the mental gaffes resulted in the team’s downfall.

Jackson County retired Eastside’s batters in order in the first inning before going to work at the plate. With two outs recorded, the Lady Panthers used small ball — as well as taking advantage of an errant throw — to take a 2-0 lead.

A lightning cell entered the area in the fifth inning, resulting in a 30-minute delay. When play resumed, the Lady Eagles immediately stormed into action.

Junior Christina Grant connected on an 0-1 pitch with one out and singled to center field. Two at-bats later, senior Kelsey Ellis bounced a dribbler back up the middle to force the Lady Panthers’ lone error of the night, allowing Grant and Ellis to set up in scoring position.

As would prove to be the theme of the night, the mistake came back to haunt Jackson County as junior Natalie Ray knocked a two-run single to center field to tie the game.

Eastside will continue its region gauntlet with a pair of games next week. The Lady Eagles will travel to Loganville on Tuesday before retuning home to host Walnut Grove on Thursday.

“Our region is really up for grabs this year,” Wood said. “Both Loganville and Walnut Grove have had a long history of success, and we know they’re well-coached, so we’ve got to come out ready to go right from the beginning. Hopefully we learn that from this loss and take it with us going forward.”