COVINGTON - The Eastside Lady Eagles started their softball season in a new classification and a new region without really knowing what to expect.
What the Lady Eagles got was a trip to the Class AAA state tournament and some great memories for their eight seniors.
Eastside (28-7-1 overall) won the Region 8-AAA championship by beating Oconee County. The Lady Eagles won all three of their games in the Class AAA North Sectional to earn a trip to Columbus.
At the state tournament, Eastside was a game away from advancing to the championship, but it lost to region foe Oconee County, which went on to win the state title.
"I am very proud of the girls and what we were able to accomplish this season," Eastside coach Heather Wood said. "They exceeded any expectations I had and were able to come together as a team during the right time of the season."
Eastside started the season 0-1-1 before turning its play around and winning 15 of its next 17 games. The Lady Eagles also won 12 of their last 14 games.
Eighteen of Eastside's 28 victories were shutouts. At one point, the Lady Eagles shut out 10 straight opponents.
Junior pitcher Amanda Henderson turned in a stellar season for the Lady Eagles. Henderson not only shattered the Eastside single-season strikeout record of 217 set by Brandi Richards two years ago, she produced the ninth best single-season strikeout total in state history with 365.
Henderson ended the year with an ERA of 0.81 and 17 shutouts.
"Amanda Henderson surprised me the most this season. She did an outstanding job for us on the mound," Wood said. "She has improved since last year and has shown maturity and leadership on the mound."
As a team, Eastside committed 43 errors and finished with a fielding percentage of .952.
"The top defensive players this season were Kayla Jones, Brianna Chambers and Sierra Petree," Wood said. "Erica Cronic also did better than I expected this season. She made the transfer from third base to second base and did a great job offensively for us."
Cronic also did a good job at the plate hitting a .340 with 24 RBIs on 32 hits, including eight doubles.
Chambers was Eastside's main offensive catalyst, leading the team in batting average (.495), runs scored (35), hits (51), steals (33) and triples (seven).
Petree and Henderson also produced big numbers offensively for the Lady Eagles. Petree hit .380 and led the squad in RBIs with 32, while Henderson posted a .376 batting average with 27 RBIs.
Freshman Amanda Hawkins also chipped in 28 RBIs.
"Each of these players were consistent throughout the season and stepped up for us in clutch situations," Wood said.
While trying to replace six starters will be a difficult next season, Wood has a good foundation to start with, and the up-and-coming players are ready for the challenge.
"I anticipate a solid foundation coming back with Amanda Henderson on the mound and Amanda Hawkins catching," she said. "Losing six starters will be tough to replace, but I have a solid group of young talent that has the ability to step up for us."
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.