GAINESVILLE - The Lady Eagles are soaring to the state playoffs.
After pummeling Morgan County 15-1 in the winner's bracket of the Class AAA North Sectional on Saturday at Lanier Point, Eastside is peaking at just the right time.
In four innings, the Lady Eagles (27-5-1 overall) scored in every frame, pounding out 17 hits in 28 at-bats (.607 average) compared to just three singles by the Lady Bulldogs (10-18-1).
Five Eastside sluggers registered multiple hits, and three had four RBIs apiece.
"They've finally gained confidence in their hitting, and they wanted to go to state so bad," Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. "This was our goal from the beginning this year, but we've got to keep going - we can't just stop here and be satisfied. We've got to keep our momentum going, but I'm so proud so far of what they've been able to accomplish this year and what they've been able to overcome."
After scoring three runs in the top of the first inning, Eastside never looked back.
A sacrifice fly by Kayla Jones plated Bri Chambers, who previously led off with a double. Amanda Henderson soon followed with a 2-run single to left field to make it 3-0.
"I'm proud of the girls for not underestimating Morgan because we've beat them twice this year," Wood said, "so I thought that actually could hurt us. But the girls came out ready to go in the first inning."
But Morgan broke Eastside's streak of nine consecutive shutouts in the bottom half of the inning when Lindsey Conway laced an RBI single to right, scoring Shelby Morrill who reached on a single.
Nevertheless, Eastside's torrid hitting continued. The Lady Eagles plated three more runs in the second thanks to a 2-run triple by Erica Cronic and an RBI single by Henderson.
Eastside added seven more runs on seven hits in the third to take a comfortable 13-1 lead.
Cronic drove in another two runs on a single to center, while Sierra Petree drilled a 2-run double off the center-right field fence. Henderson, who ended 3-for-4 with four RBIs, added another run-scoring hit before Shae Shepherd belted a 2-run single to center.
"I felt confident the whole year that we have one of the best, if not the best, team in the state," Eastside assistant coach Jason Stokes said. "It feels good to know that we're there because last year we had the team to win it (but) we got upset. This right here could have been the state tournament because all the top teams are in this sectional. I'm not saying it's going to get easier, but the south regionals is not nearly as tough as this."
Overall, Cronic was 4-for-4 with four RBIs and four runs scored.
In the fourth and final inning, Petree chipped in with yet another 2-run double off the outfield fence.
"It's unbelievable," Eastside assistant coach Michael Poor said. "This is one of the best teams I've ever been associated with, hands down, in any sport. It's just amazing, and we couldn't be happier for them."
Petree finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
Chambers went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, while Jones finished 2-for-3 with one RBI and two runs.
In the circle, Henderson picked up the win by allowing just three base runners. She had six strikeouts and zero walks.
"I'm very proud of the girls and I'm glad that we're there," Stokes said. "I think we have a really good chance to take it all the way."
Kimberly Banks had the only other hit for the Lady Bulldogs, who combined to go 3-for-16.
Defense has played an integral role for Eastside this season. Opposing teams are averaging just 1.09 runs per game, and have only scored once in the past 10 games.
"If we just keep hitting the ball like we have been and keep making routine plays, we'll be fine," Poor said. "Everything else will take care of itself."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.