Eastside crowned region champs

WATKINSVILLE - It's been nearly three weeks since the Eastside Lady Eagles have allowed an opposing team to score.

And the streak continued Saturday afternoon after Eastside blanked Oconee 6-0 at Lady Warrior Field to win the Region 8-AAA tournament.

As a result, No. 1 Eastside will face the No. 4 seed at

4 p.m. Friday during the Class AAA North Sectional at Lanier Pointe in Gainesville.

"It's huge for us," Eastside coach Heather Wood said. "Not only is it giving us momentum going into sectionals but it's just a good feeling. We haven't won region in two years. It's a good confidence builder and it puts us in a better position for sectionals."

For the Lady Eagles (24-5-1 overall), it was their seventh consecutive shutout and biggest to date. In fact, the last time Eastside allowed a run to cross the plate came on Sept. 23 in a 3-2 win over Morgan County.

Earlier Saturday in the winner's bracket, Eastside cruised past Stephens County 7-0.

Eastside starting pitcher Amanda Henderson earned both victories in complete-game fashion. Against Stephens and Oconee, she recorded 26 strikeouts, allowing just five hits - all singles - and five walks.

"I wanted to win really bad," Henderson admitted, "because while we have the chance (now) I want to make sure to get as far as we can and do good."

In the championship game against Oconee - who defeated Eastside twice during the regular season - the Lady Eagles took an early 1-0 lead in the second inning after courtesy runner Kayla Bruno scored on a wild pitch.

But the big blow came in the third. With the bases loaded and two outs, Eastside's Erica Cronic smacked a 3-run double to center that took a bounce before ricocheting off the fence.

"It just felt great to get a hit and score some runs to get ahead," Cronic said. "(Winning region) is a big deal for me because I'm a senior and want to go all the way."

It proved more than enough for Henderson and company. While the junior kept the Lady Warriors off balance, the Lady Eagles' defense made plays. Eastside committed just two errors in both games.

"She's done an outstanding job for us all season, not even just this tournament," Wood said. "She's put us in a position to win every single game. I'm so proud of her and everything she's accomplished this year."

Eastside added its final run in the fourth thanks to an RBI fielder's choice by Henderson, scoring Bri Chambers who previously singled.

Chambers finished with two hits, while Amanda Hawkins had two hits and two runs scored.

Oconee's Sara Vaughn and Hanna Vaughn recorded the only hits for their team, both infield singles in the seventh inning.

"I think (beating Oconee) was a motivator for them," Wood said. "A team hasn't beat us more than twice in a season in I don't know how long, so I think that motivated the girls."

Against Stephens, it was more of the same - phenomenal pitching, excellent fielding and timely hitting.

Five of Eastside's nine hits went for extra bases, which led to four runs scored. Meanwhile, Stephens left all nine runners on base.

"I was proud of the girls for coming out ready to hit in the first inning," Wood said. "We were putting the ball in play hitting hard balls, and finally things started going our way. But I was proud of the girls for coming out ready to go from the very beginning instead of waiting until the third or fourth like we do some days."

After two scoreless innings, Eastside's Jqunga Blue reached on a fielding error by shortstop Taylor Kelley in the third. Cronic followed with a sacrifice bunt, advancing Blue to second base who proceeded to take third. A throwing error by first baseman Ashlee Mealor gave Eastside a 1-0 lead.

After drawing two walks in the fourth inning, Stephens had the momentum. But with two runners in scoring position and two outs, Bruno made a running catch in left field, robbing a bloop hit off the bat of Laura Isbill to end the threat.

"That was a big play for us," Wood said. "We had (Bruno) lined up right according to the pitch, so she did a good job for us and came through."

Had it not been for the defensive gem, perhaps the end result for Eastside may not have been the same.

"I thought that it was a good catch overall," Bruno said. "I was kind of nervous (it might drop) but I caught it in the end."

Without taking any more chances, the Lady Eagles plated three runs in the fifth inning thanks to back-to-back RBI triples by Chambers and Kayla Jones. Jones would later score on a passed ball, giving Eastside a 4-0 lead.

The Lady Eagles tacked on three more runs in the seventh for good measure. After a leadoff single to center by Cronic, Bruno laid down a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Eastside recorded three straight RBI hits by Chambers, Jones (double) and Henderson (double).

"Yeah, I was feeling pretty good (at the plate)," Jones said, who finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. "I finally started waiting on the ball and being patient."

Chambers led Eastside with three hits, including two RBIs, two runs and three stolen bases.

Kelley led the Lady Indians with two hits. Kaitlin Kinney recorded the only other hit for Stephens.

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.