East­side falls in fi­nal state tour­ney games, ex­cited for fu­ture

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - Gabriel Sto­vall gsto­vall@cov­news.com

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.”

Gabriel Sto­vall | The Cov­ing­ton News

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.

Photos by Gabriel Sto­vall | The Cov­ing­ton News

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.

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