Up-and-down season
Eastside goes from shaky start to Top-10 finish

COVINGTON - The Eastside Lady Eagles softball team experienced a lot of highs and lows this season, finishing with a 25-10-1 record and a No. 10 ranking in the gasports.com poll.

After a shaky start playing .500 ball in their first six games, including a 4-2 win over eventual Class AAAAA runner-up Peachtree Ridge, the Lady Eagles settled down.

Eastside won nine of its next 10 games, including a 1-0 win over Loganville to start Region 8-AAAA play.

After playing to a 5-5 tie against Parkview, the Lady Eagles went 11-2 heading into the Region 8-AAAA tournament.

Prior to the playoffs, they won their last six in a row, taking the No. 1 seed with a region record of 11-1. Their only region loss prior to tournament was a 1-0 decision to Rockdale.

After shutting out Alcovy 8-0 in the first game of the region playoffs, they lost to Loganville before beating Heritage, securing a trip to the Class AAAA North Sectionals.

They then lost 5-4 to Dacula in eight innings, forcing them to head to the sectionals as the No. 4 seed.

"I felt like we had good momentum going into the region playoffs. I think a problem we have a lot is with our intensity," Eastside coach Heather Wood said. "We had the talent this year, they just have to come ready to play and want it more than anybody else."

In the sectionals, the Lady Eagles started the tournament heading in the right direction by beating Marist 2-1 in extra innings but lost 4-0 to Ringgold.

On the second day of the tournament, the Lady Eagles eliminated Alexander 3-1 before losing 7-6 to Loganville.

"I had high expectations for the season," Wood said. "We had a lot of ups and downs. The one thing I learned as a coach is that you can't win on talent alone. That was evident in the sectional tournament. A lot of it is who wants it the most and a lot of mental issues come into play. We started off great. We had a hard time against Ringgold; our offense struggled a lot in the beginning. We played well against Alexander, and for the most part, we played well against Loganville."

Offensively, the Lady Eagles finished with a slightly higher batting average than last season, amassing a .313 team average.

"The girls were a lot smarter at the plate, and they made better adjustments," Wood said. "Coach (Michael) Poor did a great job with them. There's room for improvement, but I feel like from last year we did improve."

Sierra Petree led the team at the plate with 35 hits, 26 RBIs and a .398 batting average.

"She's batting in the No. 3 spot, and that's the hardest spot there is. She's going to get the hardest pitching. I'm really proud of her this year," Wood said.

While many of Eastside's numbers are impressive, the one place the Lady Eagles really shined was in the pitcher's circle.

Brandi Richards, who finished last season with 211 strikeouts, added 191 more to her totals as a two-year starter. She led the team with a record of 12-2, finishing with an ERA of 1.46 and throwing three shutout games.

Senior transfer Ricki Powers had an ERA of 1.39 and had a record of 7-3 while throwing four shutouts and fanning 95 batters.

As a sophomore, Henderson had 80 strikeouts while finishing the year at 5-4 with three shutouts.

"Overall, I'm very pleased with our pitching staff. There were a lot of games the offense didn't come through for them, but overall, I'm pleased with the pitching," Wood said.

While the season was somewhat of a disappointment as Eastside failed to make it to the state quarterfinals in Columbus, Wood, who is in her second year as a head coach, was able to use the season as a learning experience.

"I learned that talent is not what is always going to make a team successful. We learned that from looking at teams like LFO (Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe) and Ringgold that didn't even get to go to state. I feel like they had as much talent as anybody," she said. "Another thing I learned is that it takes a lot of hard work and team unity."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.