Eastside falls in final state tourney games, excited for future
Real competitors never like to lose. But true competitors also understand that every loss isn’t the end of the world.
For the Eastside High School softball team, the losses the Lady Eagles suffered in the Columbus rounds of the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA state tournament may actually be the beginning of a new world of program success.
At least that’s what head coach, Heather Wood is hoping for after the Eagles lost 8-0 to No. 1 NW Whitfield on Thursday and 9-0 to a Ste- phens County squad with big bats Friday, both in five inning run rules.
But when the team assembled for its final huddle of the season, there weren’t many frowns. If there were tears, they only came as the team said goodbye to its lone senior in uniform, McKenzie Walker. Beyond that, Eastside was upbeat and its coach already looking at this year’s unexpected Columbus experience has a stepping stone.
“I didn’t see going to Columbus coming this year,” Wood said. “Honestly, because we were so young this year, I thought, ‘Okay, we’ll get a good year to gel together and get used to each other, and get these young players with who lack varsity experience accustomed to the kind of system we play, and what it takes to work together.”
Instead, Wood got an Eastside squad that steadily improved, found out early in a near-win at Morgan County that it could play with anyone and then realized that it was region championship and Columbus material.
Eastside’s two Columbus setbacks dropped their final overall record to 20-15. But the Lady Eagles finished with a 12-1 mark in Region
4-AAAA, on its way to back-toback region championships.
And that’s after having lost nine seniors — most of whom were starters — from last year’s team that had its season come to an end before Columbus even entered the conversation. With Walker being the only senior departing this year, the expectations for the Lady Eagles for 2018 are already high, which makes the pair of season ending losses a little easier of a pill to swallow.
“Even though these last two games were disappointing, it’s really hard to stay that way,” Wood said. Just because these girls, they’ve made so much progress from the beginning of the season until now. So they have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about.”
Call it a baptism into Georgia High School softball’s next level, so to speak. Wood is hoping that the lumps they took against teams who’ve been there, done that in Columbus will bode well for her squad if and when they make it back to high school softball’s holy grail again.
“I’m hoping we can take this experience and improve from it, especially next year if we can advance to Columbus again,” Wood said. “Hopefully next year, we’ll hit the ground running. It took us a little time to get the nerves out this year. And when those other teams started hitting, we just didn’t get it together make adjustments. But I think we’ll take this in and learn from this and make it our motivation for next year to be even better.”
The Eastside Eagles are optimistic about their softball future, despite taking back-to-back losses in the GHSA state tournament in Columbus. The Eagles only lose one senior from this year’s team.
Sophomore Kailey Rusk had some impressive moments during Eastside’s two-game stint in Columbus.
Junior pitcher Dani Fairey will provide a potent 1-2 pitching punch with Rusk in 2018.
Eastside’s lone senior, McKenzie Walker stands with the Lady Eagles’ coaching staff after Eastside’s season finale in Columbus.
Kelsey Ellis attempts a bunt during Eastside’s Friday afternoon game against Stephens County.