The East­side Ea­gles’ soft­ball team punched its ticket to the Class AAAA Elite Eight in Colum­bus for the first time since 2010 on Thurs­day in a game with a dra­matic twist end­ing.

EHS wins first trip to Elite 8 since 2010 af­ter Spald­ing tri­umph

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - Gabriel Sto­vall gsto­vall@cov­

COV­ING­TON, Ga. — In the most dra­matic and per­haps un­likely of out­comes, the East­side Lady Ea­gles’ soft­ball team is on its way to Colum­bus, and the Elite Eight round of the Class AAAA state tour­na­ment.

East­side out­lasted Spald­ing 2-1 in eight in­nings of a pitcher’s dual Game 3 in the best of three qual­i­fy­ing se­ries, as sopho­more Kai­ley Rusk hurled a whop­ping 12 strike­outs in a com­plete game of ac­tion.

But it was a mat­ter of at­ten­tion to de­tail in the bot­tom of the eighth in­ning that kept Spald­ing from either win­ning the game or, at the least, push­ing it to an­other frame.

With a score­less tie go­ing into the top of the eighth in­ning, East­side’s lone se­nior, McKen­zie Walker starters the go-ahead se­quence for the Ea­gles when she belted a sin­gle and then later stole sec­ond base.

Rusk then came to the plate and smashed what looked to be a RBI dou­ble, but she was able to round sec­ond and third to come home af­ter a Spald­ing throw­ing er­ror, giving East­side a 2-0 lead.

Spald­ing would try to spark a rally in the bot­tom of the eighth, how­ever, when Madi­son Cham­bers belted a sin­gle to get on base. Then Hay­ley Farmer smashed an­other sin­gle to right field, where an East­side wild throw-in gave Cham­bers the green light to come in for the score.

East­side was cling­ing to a 2-1 lead in the bot­tom of the eighth with a Spald­ing run­ner on third and two outs when things got re­ally in­ter­est­ing.

Af­ter Rusk struck out Alyssa Ris­per for the sec­ond out, the next Jaguars bat­ter knocked what looked like an RBI sin­gle that brought home the ty­ing score. Ex­cept the ty­ing run­ner leaped over home plate in­stead of touch­ing home plate.

Once the Spald­ing run­ner got back to the dugout, think­ing she had scored, East­side as­sis­tant coaches, par­ents and sopho­more catcher Alysse Dobbs started try­ing to alert Rusk of the Spald­ing player’s mis­cue.

Dobbs beck­oned for Rusk to throw the ball to her at home plate, and when she did and Dobbs touched the plate, the um­pire called the third out, touch­ing off a wild cel­e­bra­tion near the home team’s dugout.

“Af­ter she scored, I knew they threw the ball back into the pitcher,” Dobbs said. “And I looked back and ev­ery­body was scream­ing, ’Touch home. Take her at home. Touch home base.’ So I told Kai­ley to throw it to me and she did, and I asked the um­pire, and he said, ‘She’s out,’ and it was just a great feel­ing all over.”

East­side coach, Heather Wood cred­ited the alert­ness of one of her as­sis­tants for help­ing pro­vide that fi­nal out.

“Coach Bells went out to take some balls that had got­ten wet, and he heard some­one say (that the run­ner didn’t touch the bag),” Wood said. “Then Alysse heard it and she touched the bag, so it was just such a good feel­ing. It’s nice some­times when you get those plays to go your way that some­times don’t go our way.”

For Walker, it was a sweet way to go out on her last home soft­ball game.

“It feels great,” she said. “For the four years I’ve been here, we’ve never been to state at Colum­bus and I just feel grate­ful to go to state with this group of girls.”

When Rusk re­calls the ca­reer night she had — made even sweeter by the fact that Spald­ing rocked East­side pitch­ing for seven runs in Wed­nes­day’s game two — she im­me­di­ately ex­changed the late-game pres­sure she felt for Colum­bus joy.

“I I feel so ex­cited,”ex­cited, Rusk said. “I told ev­ery­body be­fore this game that

we were go­ing to win and that we were go­ing to Colum­bus. Last night in the sec­ond game, I didn’t do too well. And I said to my­self that I’m com­ing out and pitch­ing the best I could, re­gard­less of what hap­pened. It was a lot of pres­sure. I al­most peed on my­self. But we got the runs we needed in the end.”

Speak­ing of pres­sure, the Lady Ea­gles say it’s all gone now. With a trip to Colum­bus now on the agenda, the plan from here on out is to play freely and act like they be­long.

“I think we’re just gonna be loose out there,” Walker said. “When you make it to Colum­bus, it’s any­body’s game. Even if you lose, it’s a tour­na­ment, and you get to keep fight­ing un­til the end.”

Wood be­lieves that, re­gard­less of how long or short East­side’s sea­son is from here, be­ing in Colum­bus will do won­ders for this team.

“From my stand­point, they need that Colum­bus ex­pe­ri­ence,” Wood said. “Get their feet wet, you know? Post­sea­son. We’re hop­ing to come out and com­pete, and that’s ex­actly what we want, but I think it’s its just a great ex­pe­ri­ence and me­mory for them, and I want them to enjoy that.”

Pho­tos by Gabriel Sto­vall | The Cov­ing­ton News

East­side’s lone se­nior, McKen­zie Walker, got the late-game rally started with a big base hit in the top of the eighth in­ning. Rusk would drive both Walker and her­self into score on the very next at-bat.

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