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SOFTBALL: Eastside scores come-from-behind win against Walnut Grove
Pitcher Kailey Rusk adds 10 more to her 500 career strikeouts milestone
Eastside pitcher Kailey Rusk added 10 more strikeouts to her career total after eclipsing the 500 career strikeouts milestone last Thursday against Woodward Academy. - photo by Brett Fowler

By Garrett Pits

COVINGTON, Ga. -- Pitching was the story for both ball clubs as Eastside extended their wins streak to four games as they pulled out a tough 4-1 non-region win against Walnut Grove Tuesday evening.

Walnut Grove’s Jenna Yeary took the pitching circle for the War Eagles, opposed by Eastside’s Kailey Rusk, who is making her first start after reaching 500 career strikeouts.

Rusk was dominant early for the Eagles, beginning the game with a quick 1-2-3 inning. Walnut Grove opened the second inning with a lead-off double, but the senior Eagle struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning.

The War Eagles opened up the scoring in the top of the third with a RBI single by Nova Wright, which drove in Kaitlyn Johnson to give Walnut Grove an early 1-0 lead.

The Eagles knocked a lead-off single to begin the bottom of the third, followed up by a Walnut Grove error, which would come back to bite as the next Eagle to bat, Natalie Ray, would drive in both runners to give Eastside a 2-1 lead.

Eastside would not stop there, as Ava Anglin would drive a two-run homer to left center to extend the Eagles’ lead to 4-1, giving Rusk the space she needed.

Not only was Anglin responsible for the biggest swing of the game, she also came through with the biggest defensive play of the game, sprinting to make a sliding catch in foul territory to get the second out of the fourth inning.

Besides giving up the four runs in the third inning, Yeary stayed in the circle the entire game for the War Eagles. Once settled in, she got Eastside to hit into a weak contact for most of the game, creating a plethora of pop-outs and ground-outs at the plate.

“Jenna is our off-speed [pitcher],” Walnut Grove head coach Steven Foster said. “She is able to spin the ball, and girls do not square her up and they ground out and we are able to get weak contact.”

Rusk took the three-run lead into the top of the fourth and never looked back, striking out two batters in each of the next two innings as well as fanning the final batter of the game to give her the complete game win.

“[I just made sure] to stay focused going to the last couple of innings,” Rusk said. “I tried to throw as many strikes as I can”.

The momentum paid off as Rusk finished the game striking out ten batters and only allowing three hits for Walnut Grove.

“[Rusk] has the drive, and she has the motivation,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “We got off to a great start, and there are big things she wants to accomplish for us as a team this year.”

Wood praised the team's discipline and mid-game adjustments that allowed the Eagles to hold on to the lead and eventually secure the win.

“I am extremely proud of the adjustments we made at the plate,” Wood said. “The first time through [the batting order] we struggled to get to [Yeary]. She had great spin on the ball, and that is something we have not seen [this year],” Wood said.

After bumping up their record to 7-1, Eastside will take the trip to face the Luella Lions Thursday afternoon, while Walnut Grove (5-4) looks to bounce back Wednesday while hosting Mill Creek. Eastside is currently ranked No. 20 in the state and No. 41 in the nation by MaxPreps. 

Rusk basks a bit in career strikeouts milestone

Starting pitcher Kailey Rusk came into Tuesday’s Walnut Grove game, still riding high after last Thursday’s Woodward Academy outing where the senior North Georgia commit recorded her 500th strikeout of her high school career.

Tuesday’s performance in Eastside’s sixth straight win only continued to separate Rusk from a pack of talented high school pitchers in Georgia, making her one of the best. And she didn’t hide the fact that achievement meant a lot to her.

 “[Getting to 500] was very exciting”, Rusk said. “[The coaching staff] has helped me a lot and motivates every game].”

 This accolade is something not all high school pitchers reach, and Eastside head coach Heather Wood understands Rusk’s importance to the team. 

“I cannot even put into words how much [Rusk] has contributed to the team,” Wood said. “She is just one of the special players who is dominate on the mound every game.” 

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Rusk took the momentum of 500 with her into Tuesday as she continued her success on the mound, striking out ten batters against Walnut Grove as she plans to increase the strikeout total in her senior season.