WATKINSVILLE - Eastside came one step closer to winning the Region 8-AAA softball tournament Thursday afternoon by silencing Hart County 3-0 at Lady Warrior Field.
With the victory, the Lady Eagles advanced to the winner's bracket finals, which will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Oconee.
The Lady Eagles (22-5-1 overall) took a 1-0 lead in the second inning by playing small ball and making Hart County's defense work.
After Shea Shepherd was plunked by Hart starting pitcher Britney Burton, Bianca Reed reached on a bunt single. Erica Cronie followed with a bunt of her own, causing third baseman Ali Robertson to mishandle the ball.
With two outs, Bri Chambers laced an opposite field RBI single to left, plating Shepherd.
"Yeah, they did a good job getting the bunt down," Eastside coach Heather Wood said. "Against teams like that when we look at their defense and see if we have a good opportunity to bunt we try to bunt a lot. We've struggled with our offense a lot this season, so we'll do anything to put the ball in play and make things happen."
Little did Chambers know it would be the eventual game-winning hit.
"I thought it could be," she said. "I just knew we had to play defense. We could have definitely won on one run, but I think it helps to have those security runs."
That was all the help Eastside starting pitcher Amanda Henderson needed. Henderson pitched a complete game, striking out 14 while issuing no walks. She struck out at least two batters in six of the seven innings she pitched.
For insurance purposes, the Lady Eagles added two more runs in the fifth inning. An RBI triple just within the right field foul line by Sierra Petree plated Henderson, who previously tripled, to make it 2-0.
"I was getting kind of nervous (watching the ball) because I haven't been hitting well, and it felt good," Petree said. "It was a really big win. I think it was a team effort more than anything. We (could) have been down in the beginning, but we came back together and everybody started hitting the ball."
In the same inning, Amanda Hawkins followed by belting an RBI single to center.
Despite racking up eight hits and batting a combined .320 (8-for-25), the Lady Eagles stranded eight runners. Nevertheless, it was their fifth consecutive shutout.
"We played solid defense," Wood said, perhaps referring to the bang-bang play by shortstop Kayla Jones in the top of the third inning. "The only thing that I was disappointed with was our base running. I think we should have scored a lot more in the beginning, so that's something we're definitely going to work on (today) in practice."
Chambers (two stolen bases) and Reed led the Lady Eagles with two hits apiece.
Hart's Rebecca Jones went 2-for-3 with a double. Kasie Haygood, Jenna Teasley and Libby Adams each had one hit for the Lady Bulldogs.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.