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STATE SOFTBALL: Eastside-Spalding split means one more game with trip to Columbus on the line
Eagles and Jaguars play Game 3 Thursday at 6 p.m.
Eastside's lone senior, McKenzie Walker, had another big night for the Eagles on Wednesday against Spalding. - photo by Tyler Williams

COVINGTON, Ga. — It was a tale of two games in Sweet 16 action Wednesday night as the Eastside Lady Eagles hosted the Region 2-AAAA’s second seeded Spalding Jaguars in double header, state tournament action. 

Although game one was close, dominant pitching and defense was enough for the Eagles to squeeze out a 3-2 win, before falling in the second contest, 7-2.

“We knew were facing better pitching and a better overall team,” head coach Heather Wood said. “We really have to do a better job of putting more pressure on them.”

Game one was everything the score indicates — a tight game with strong showings on the mound and on defense for both squads. After three innings, the 3-2 lead that the Eagles took would not be tampered with for the rest of the game.

Even with runners threatening to score at certain points, sophomore pitcher Kailey Rusk kept cool under pressure, and was able keep the Jaguars off home plate. 

“Kailey did a great job against good hitters,” Wood said. The final out of game one was a fly ball into right field caught by Kelsey Ellis.

Game two is where momentum took a huge turn. 

After the Eagles failed to score in the top of the first, Rusk took the mound once again, where she initially seemed ready to help send the Eagles to Columbus. It appeared this way up until the bottom of the third inning, when Spalding began finding success with its hitting.

It started with an RBI double that got the Jaguars on the board first, followed by another run added, to take a 2-0 lead with one out. 

After a few more at bats, the bases were loaded with only one out, but a double play started by Rusk kept the Eagles out of trouble and kept their deficit a manageable two runs. 

The Eagles would threaten with a bases loaded situation of their own, but a strikeout ended the inning with three runners left at the plate. 

The bottom of the fourth is where the Jaguars would ultimately put the game away, scoring four more runs before a double play by Dani Fairey that finally ended the inning. 

Fairey would get her time on the mound as well, pitching the last two innings, an opportunity, she said felt good because she believes the pressure makes her a better pitcher.

Fairey would only allow one more run from Spalding while striking three batters out.

While the Eagles had some opportunities on offense in their last three innings at the plate, they could only muster two runs in the top of the seventh when senior Mckenzie Walker drove a ball deep into right field and rounded the bases for an in-the-park home run which also brought in Kendel Mcauliffe as well. 

Despite allowing seven runs, coach Wood was pleased with the positive pitching outings from both Fairey and Rusk. 

“Coming into this game, we knew their first through fifth batters were top notch hitters,” Wood said. “I think both pitchers did a good job of keeping us in the game, but unfortunately we didn’t execute in certain situations and I think that affected the outcome.”

Mental mistakes were unfortunately too much to overcome, but many of the players, and Wood, hope to start fresh Thursday to continue their playoff run. 

“We were more anxious in the second game and didn’t make the simple defensive plays we usually make,” Mcauliffe said. “We are evaluating this game tonight, but when we wake up (Thursday), we are going to start fresh and just play our game.”

Fairey thinks the team will be more prepared in the rubber match because she believes the team knows what to expect now. 

For Wood, it is about the simple fundamentals that she thinks can guarantee success in game three. 

“(Thursday), we have to just embrace the fundamentals of the game,” she said. “We have to make sure we make those plays. Good teams advance to Columbus when they put pressure on the other team. They’ve got to understand that this is their moment to take advantage of the outs they didn’t get tonight.”

Eastside and Spalding will face off one more time on Thursday at 6:00 p.m., where the winner advances to the round of eight in Columbus.