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PREP SOFTBALL: Lady Eagles soaring into new region in 2020
Eastside Softball
Eastside head coach Heather Wood is eager to show that her Lady Eagles can hang with stiff competition in their new region this fall. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

2020 Eastside Varsity Softball Schedule

Date  |  Opponent  |  Time

Thurs. Aug. 6 vs. Locust Grove (Scrimmage), 5 p.m.

Mon. Aug. 10 vs. Monticello, 5:30 p.m.

Fri. Aug. 14 @ Morgan Co. (DH), 6:15 p.m. (Hart Co.) & 8 p.m. (Morgan Co.)

Tues. Aug. 18 vs. Alcovy, 6 p.m.

Sat. Aug. 22 @ Newton, 1 p.m.

Tues. Aug. 25 vs. Apalachee, 6:30 p.m.

Thurs. Aug. 27 @ Clarke Central (DH), 4:30 p.m. & 6 p.m.

Tues. Sept. 1 @ Jackson Co., 6 p.m.

Tues. Sept. 8 @ Loganville

Thurs. Sept. 10 vs. Eastside (DH), 4:30 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.

Fri. Sept. 11-Sat. Sept. 12 @ Morgan Co. Lady Dog Invitational (5 Games), TBA

Tues. Sept. 15 @ Greenbriar, 5 p.m.

Thurs. Sept. 17 @ Apalachee (DH), 4:30 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.

Tues. Sept. 22 vs. Clarke Central, 6 p.m.

Thurs. Sept. 24 vs. Eastside Jackson Co. (DH), 4 p.m. & 6 p.m.

Thurs. Oct. 1 vs. Loganville (DH), 4:30 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.

Mon. Oct. 5 vs. Luella (Senior Night), 5:55 p.m.

Tues. Oct. 6th @ Walnut Grove, 6 p.m.

Thurs. Oct. 8 vs. Greenbriar (DH ), 4:30 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.

Tues. Oct. 13-Thurs. Oct. 15. @ 1st Round State Playoffs, TBA

COVINGTON, Ga. — Eastside High School has quietly built its softball program into a powerhouse.

The Lady Eagles have won at least 20 games each of the past five seasons — they’ve gone 108-53 over that stretch — while establishing themselves among the elite in Region 4-AAAA. But things will be shaken up this fall as they’ll be forced to navigate the gauntlet of a new, more daunting region in order to punch their ticket to the postseason.

Eastside made the jump to Class AAAAA earlier this year when the Georgia High School Association underwent its reclassification process. As a result, the school’s athletic programs will now compete in Region 8 alongside Apalachee, Clarke Central, Greenbrier, Jackson County and Johnson (Gainesville), as well as local foes Loganville and Walnut Grove.

The task will be tall. There’s no denying that the strength of the Lady Eagles’ old region pales in comparison to the one they’ll find themselves in this season. But veteran head coach Heather Woods is eager to prove that her club belongs in conversations about elite programs — not just in the surrounding area, but across the state.

“We’re excited about the season,” head coach Heather Woods said. “Our region is going to be more competitive than we’ve had in the past, so I think that’s only going to make us better. We’ve got a tough schedule, but we’ve also got a great group of girls that I think will compete this year.”

The prominent question mark about Eastside in 2020 is how the club will replace the production of Kailey Rusk.

Prior to her departure to the University of North Georgia, Rusk served as the reliable ace of the Lady Eagles staff for several years. She consistently mowed down opponents, and topped off her specular prep career last fall by being named the Region 4-AAAA Player of the Year.

Woods admitted that players like Rusk don’t walk through the door every season. She knows she captured lightning in a bottle with her ace, and the impact of her loss will be felt throughout the program. However, Woods remains confident about the pieces she’s bringing back in 2020.

“We’ve been very fortunate here at Eastside. We’ve always had a solid group of girls and a lot of talent here, especially on the mound,” Woods said. “Losing someone like Kailey Rusk is something that we are going to have to adjust to, but I think we’ve got a great group of girls returning; a lot of the core girls returning. And a little more depth, I think, pitching-wise.”

Rather than placing the pressure on one arm to develop into the new ace of the staff, Eastside will attempt to replace Rusk’s value by committee. In order to do so, they’ll need to receive strong seasons in the circle from juniors Victoria Freeman, Jada Brown, Megan Coggins and freshman Dezaria Johnson — a transfer from Indian Creek.

“We’ve got a four-pitcher rotation right as of now, so we have a little flexibility to mix things up,” Woods said. “A lot of it will depend on who we’re playing, who’s on and who’s not. We can get a little bit more creative when we have a few pitchers to work with instead of just one dominant one.”

The Lady Eagles’ staff must continue to develop as the season stretches out. But, if it is able to do so, the plethora of weapons at their disposal could prove lethal by disallowing batters to grow accustomed to any one individual’s mechanics and timing.

Eastside returns an abundance of talent in its lineup as well.

Junior center fielder Natalie Ray, who posted one of the highest batting averages on the team last year while leading the club in stolen bags, almost always wields a hot bat. She’ll be protected in the lineup by the likes of junior shortstop Lauren Burnett and junior catcher Heather Henderson, as well as proven seniors Ava Anglin and Kelsey Ellis.

“I think we’re excited about being able to be competitive,” Woods said. “It’ll help us be a title more consistent, too. We also know that we’ve got a lot of game this season and that we’ve got to really keep the girls healthy and ready to play, but we’re excited to get going.”

Eastside will open the 2020 season at home against Monticello on Monday, Aug. 10, at 5:30 p.m.