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Eastside retools for return to Class AAA

COVINGTON - The Eastside softball teams were powerhouses in Class AAAA for several years. However, things may slow down a little as the Lady Eagles return to Class AAA this season.

"I think this is starting a rebuilding process for us. You have a couple of good seasons in a row and you have to start rebuilding," Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. "I have a good core to start with, and I have a lot of good leadership with six seniors."

Despite being in a rebuilding phase, the Lady Eagles still have enough good players to make them contenders in Region 8-AAA.

But before they get ready to take a trip to the state finals, they will have to get past a very good Oconee County team. The Lady Warriors have won the Class AAA state title three of the past four seasons.

The last time Eastside made it to Columbus for the state finals was in 2000.

"I'm excited about being in a new region. I do think we'll be very competitive and I predict Oconee will be our top competitors in our region," Wood said. "Morgan (County) is always solid, but I'm not sure about the other teams. We've played Oconee and Morgan a lot throughout the years in tournaments. I think the other teams are average."

One of the more difficult tasks facing Wood is going from four senior pitchers on the roster to a staff of two, a junior and a freshman.

The weight of the pitching duties will fall on the shoulders of junior Amanda Henderson as their top pitcher. Helping Henderson whenever possible is freshman Taylor Causey.

Even though there will be a lot of pressure on whoever is on the mound, the Lady Eagles will have a very experienced infield to back them up.

"Defensively, I feel we're solid. Our whole infield is seniors except for my pitcher and catcher," Wood said.

In the infield will be Shea Shepherd at first base, Erica Cronic at second base, Kayla Jones at shortstop and Sierra Petree at third base.

Handling the primary catching duties will be freshman Amanda Hawkins. While the catcher can play a big role the success and failure of a season, Wood said she has the utmost confidence in Hawkins.

"The reason I think Amanda will be fine is because she's very mature for her age, physically and mentally. From what I've seen of her over the summer and so far, she plays like an upperclassman," Wood said. "She doesn't have a freshman mentality. That's why I feel comfortable with her ability behind the plate. Also, offensively she's a great hitter. I think she'll help us out tremendously this year."

Returning for her senior year in the outfield is speedster Brianna Chambers.The other two positions are up for grabs between Kayla Bruno, Jessica Davenport, Erica Cronic, Kenya Shakoor, Amber Shumway and Cayla Hegwood.

Depth is a concern this season for Wood. Last season, Eastside had 18 players. This season it's down to 14.

"We're not going to have the depth we're used to having. but I feel we'll be fine," Wood said. "The only spot I see where it might affect us is pitching. I have 14 players on varsity, I think we'll be fine."

While having a smaller roster could be a problem, Wood sees the good in having fewer players.

"Before I had so many girls that there were a lot of different cliques," she said. "But now I have smaller numbers and I feel like the girls are really playing together well and working hard. I think that having six seniors they want to end well."

Besides making it to state, other goals before the Lady Eagles include playing as a team and being competitive.

"We also want to go further in the postseason than we did last year," Wood said. "But the state is always our goal."

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

SideBar: At a glance

Team: Eastside softball

Head coach: Heather Wood (third season)

Last year's record: 25-10-1

Key returning players: Kayla Jones, Sierra Petree, Bri Chambers, Amanda Henderson

First game: Aug. 15 at 5 p.m. against Brookwood at South Gwinnett Diamond Classic