COVINGTON - Eastside softball has a long and proud tradition, winning state championships in 1998 and 1999.
In the past five years, the Lady Eagles have won four region championships, made it to the Final Four once and the Elite Eight five times, with two of those trips being one game away from playing in the state finals.
The job of continuing that tradition is now in the hands of new head coach Jason Stokes.
"There's a lot of pressure, but I really don't feel it. I want to win and I'm going to do everything to win," Stokes said. "Ever since Eastside opened, the softball program has been one of the shining lights of Eastside."
Stokes' experience coaching softball has been primarily under former coach Heather Wood for the past three years.
He also attended practices and even helped from time to time when his wife played at Middle Georgia College.
However, his love for softball goes back even further.
"I've been watching it since high school. I was been a big fan of (former Eastside standout pitcher) Chris Mattice when she played," he said.
Even though he does not have head coaching experience in softball, Stokes feels that his baseball experience will shift over to the girls to keep the high level of competition alive.
"There's not a whole lot of difference between that and baseball. There are rule changes and certain things about pitching that I don't know," Stokes said. "But as far as fielding and throwing, all those things are the same. The only difference is that the bases are shorter and, if you have a player that has a lot of speed, you can work with them and turn them into a left-handed batter. Just by getting the ball in play, they can be safe a lot whereas in baseball it's not true."
Unlike Eastside teams in the past, Stokes is going to have a relatively young team with the Lady Eagles losing eight players to graduation.
While Eastside teams in the past featured players with travel ball experience, many players on the squad Stokes is inheriting do not. As a result, he will be playing a lot more scrimmage games.
"We usually have two or three, but this year I'll have at least five," Stokes said. "I'm going to focus a good deal of my attention on girls hitting the ball and putting the ball in play. The best way for girls to get better is to play."
Regardless of what Stokes has or does not have on his team, there are certain aspects of the game he wants to make sure his girls get out of the experience.
"I want the girls to have fun and learn the game, I want them to play hard. That's one of my biggest pet peeves, guys or girls, not to hustle and give it their all. I will not tolerate anything less than 100 percent at all times," Stokes said. "I want to teach them that no matter win or lose, they have to try as hard as they can. That's what I want to get out of them for seven innings. As far as wins and losses, I'll let those take care of themselves."
Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@