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PREP SOFTBALL: Lady Eagles’ season ends in Sweet Sixteen
Emma Hopper hits a grand slam over center field in game 2 against Northside on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in the second round of the GHSA Class 5A playoffs. - photo by Phillip B. Hubbard

COLUMBUS, Ga. — In a hard fought, back-and-forth battle between Eastside and Northside, the Lady Eagles came out on the losing end. After splitting the first two games on Tuesday, Eastside lost the decisive game 3, 5-0 on Wednesday. 

It was a sour ending to an impressive season for the Lady Eagles. 

Head coach Heather Wood will look back onto the season as one of the best in program history. 

“We had an incredible run this season,” Wood said. “We’re one game shy of Columbus. I hated for the season to end the way it did. I think this team is one of the most talented teams I’ve ever coached. I will never forget this team because of their potential. We could’ve competed with anybody in the state and made a run in Columbus.” 

Across game 1 and 3, the Lady Eagles just weren’t able to score enough runs to keep track with the Lady Patriots. 

However, in game 2, the bats came alive for Eastside. So much so, it was like a home run derby. 

Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Lauren Burnett stepped to the plate. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Burnett drilled a homer to left field. 

Two batters later, Jada Brown cleared a home run over the center field fence to score herself and Heather Henderson from first. Dezariah Johnson continued the home run showcase by drilling a ball to center field to tie things up 4-4.

Emma Hopper joined the show an inning later. 

Now facing a 6-4 deficit, the bases were loaded for the junior. She cashed all the chips in with one swing of the bat. 

With a 1-2 count, Hopper hit a no-doubter grand slam to give Eastside its first lead of the series. 

As impressive as the home run streak was, it was a single to win game 2.

Henderson placed the ball in left field for a walk-off RBI single that scored Natalie Ray from third base. That brought the eleventh and winning run across the plate to win 11-10. 

Eastside’s dug out and fans celebrated knowing its season was still alive. 

Wood highlighted how her team’s offense had the ability to score a lot of runs all season long. 

“We’ve had games that went back-and-forth,” Wood said. “We’re in a tough region. This year, we had three region games where we were down 7-0 in the second inning and came back to win. This is a pattern for several of our games this year. We have enough good hitters to keep the game alive and be competitive.” 

But, in game 3, the offense didn’t carry over. 

Lila Whitmire was the final batter for the Lady Eagles. She struck out looking to finish the season. 

The Lady Eagles finished with a 24-5 overall record and region runner-up in Region 8-AAAAA behind Loganville.  

Though the season didn’t end like she wanted, Wood recognized that the underclassmen can take a lot away from this year’s playoff experience. 

That experience, in turn, could help the Lady Eagles to go deeper in 2022. 

“I think that experience is so valuable for [the underclassmen],” Wood said. “To be in that environment and seeing these games, I think that’ll motivate our players to hit the ground running next year. It’s important for them to see what it takes to get to Columbus. That’ll prepare them for the future in playoff games.”