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PREP SOFTBALL: Lady Eagles stand tough against state powers
Eastside suffers narrow loss to No. 10 Loganville, splits doubleheader with No. 4 Walnut Grove
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Eastside split Thursday's doubleheader against No. 4 Walnut Grove. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Eastside High School softball team continued to navigate its way through the Region 8-AAAAA gauntlet this week.

The Lady Eagles’ region slate is front-loaded, featuring early tests against the likes of Walnut Grove and Loganville — both of whom landed inside the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Top 10 rankings for Class AAAAA this week. Consequently, the club hasn’t been afforded the time it usually has to work out the kinks prior to facing stiff competition.

Eastside has been bumped and bruised — the club found itself in the midst of a three-game losing streak Thursday night — but showed signs of improvement along the way. 

Despite pulling out just one victory in their three games this week, the Lady Eagles (5-4, 3-3) are far more complete team than their record might indicate.

“I’m thankful we’re in such a competitive region because it only makes us better,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re mentally ready to go every single region game because they’re all so important.”

Loganville 1, Eastside 0

On Tuesday, the Lady Eagles trekked to Walton County to take on No. 10 Loganville.

Freshman Dezaria Johnson stepped up in the circle for Eastside. She pitched to contact and was attacked for nine hits. But, with the defense behind her keeping runners in check, she allowed just one earned run through six innings of work.

Unfortunately for the Lady Eagles, they weren’t able to muster up enough offense to counter the lone run the freshman right-hander surrendered.

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Freshman right-hander Dezaria Johnson allowed just one run in Tuesday night's loss to Loganville. - Brett Fowler | The Walton Tribune
With two outs and one on in the first inning, Loganville’s Sarah Glick ripped an RBI single to center field. The Lady Red Devils would give up six hits, but Eastside failed to push a run across and make up for the early deficit.

“I thought Z did great on the mound. That was probably one of the best games she’s pitched,” Wood said. “Loganville’s always a very competitive team. We just didn’t have our bats. We just couldn’t put some of our hits together, so we’ve got to work on that. If we’re going to win ballgames against these teams, we’ve got to score runs.”

Walnut Grove 8, Eastside 4 (F/10)

Reeling from back-to-back region losses at the hands of Loganville and Jackson County, the Lady Eagles return to the friendly confines of their home diamond Thursday.

Waiting in the wings for them, however, was yet another formidable adversary in No. 4 Walnut Grove.

In the first leg of Thursday’s doubleheader, the clubs exchanged repeated blows without allowing either one to establish dominance. Just when it looked like Eastside was in line to pull out a hard-fought victory, the Lady Warriors struck for two runs in the seventh frame to force extra innings.

“They’re a great hitting team, so they’re going to make those adjustments,” Wood said of Walnut Grove. “Anytime we show a sign of weakness or get behind in the county, they usually do capitalize on that and adjust.”

Knotted up at three runs apiece in the eighth inning, Walnut Grove began to attack the arm of Johnson by singling the freshman pitcher to death. Emily Byers and Maddie Williamson collected back-to-back one-out knocks to set allow Gracie Folds to drive in the go-ahead run with a line drive single up the middle.

In the home half of the inning, Eastside’s quickly dwindled itself down to its final out after two first-pitch pop outs. But after sophomore Emma Hopper and junior Christina Grant reached base on singles, a fielding error allowed a run to score from third and tie the game at 4.

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Eastside junior Natalie Hanson (10) is gunned down at the plate during the Lady Eagles' loss to Walnut Grove on Thursday. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News
Both teams held their own in the ninth inning, but things began to fall apart for Eastside in the 10th.

The Lady Warriors struck early and often in a four-run frame that allowed them to lock up the victory.

“I think there were missed opportunities in the first game offensively,” Wood said, “and some things we could’ve done a little bit better.”

Eastside 8, Walnut Grove 3

In the nightcap, Eastside’s bats woke up for the first time in nearly a week.

The Lady Eagles pushed a pair of runs across in the first — RBI single from sophomore Alyssa Cruz and sac fly from sophomore Heather Henderson— and second — two-run double from Cruz— innings to take a quick 4-0 lead.

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Sophomore Alyssa Cruz went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI in the Lady Eagles' 8-3 victory over Walnut Grove. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News
Clinging to a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning, they added on with RBI singles from Grant and senior Riley Hannah before junior Natalie Ray burst the game wide open with a two-run triple, making it 8-1.

Wood handed the ball to junior Vyctoria Freeman in the second leg of the doubleheader. Freeman went the distance for the Lady Eagles, working around eight walks and seven hits to allow just three earned runs and collect the win.

“I think both of our pitchers did a good job [Thursday] of throwing strikes and giving us opportunities to win,” Wood said.