No. 1 Eastside tries to stay focused on opponent

Eastside coach Jason Stokes tries to keep his players from reading their own headlines. It's got to be one of the toughest things the longtime coach has to deal with.

The Eagles are ranked No. 1 in Class AAA by PrepCountry.com, have won nine consecutive games and are on a short list of state title contenders after a convincing sweep of Dunwoody in the first round.

"I hadn't even looked at a paper myself. I'm hoping the rest of the girls are doing the same," Stokes said. "I haven't told them what we're ranked; (the coaching staff) keep them busy, we've been practicing every day, trying to keep them focused."

That shouldn't be a difficult task with Ridgeland coming to town. The Panthers are coming off two shutout wins over White County in the first round, and of their seven losses, six are by one or two runs. Stokes also is wary of Ridgeland, ranked No. 6 in Class AAA, because of the similarities to his own team.

"They sound a lot like us - good pitching, play good defense, got a good catcher behind the plate," Stokes said. "(But) they rely a little more heavily on the long ball, I think."

Neutralizing the home run threat is a much easier task when someone like Amanda Henderson is in the circle. The senior right-hander had another fine season, and in the first-round sweep, she threw a no-hitter in Game 1 and pitched a shutout in the nightcap.

Stokes is also confident in a much-improved defense, which has taken nearly the entire season to gel with players learning new positions.

"You feel like you can win every game, no matter who we're playing against. You feel like you have a chance to win, which is always comforting," Stokes said of Henderson. "Earlier in the year, we were making all kinds of mistakes (on defense), mental and physical. The more we played, the more we got comfortable and you can see the confidence in the way we play. I've been real pleased. We don't play defense we don't win, just like we don't pitch we don't win."

Trying to avoid the rain that blanketed the area over the past week, the Eagles moved the second-round series from Friday to today. The teams will play the first two games starting at 2 p.m., and, if necessary, the deciding game after that.

Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at kurt.aschermann@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If you go

· Who: No. 6 Ridgeland Panthers (21-7) at No. 1 Eastside Eagles (24-8)

· What: Second round of the Class AAA state softball playoffs

· When: 2 p.m. today

· Where: Eastside High School

· First round: Eastside swept Dunwoody, 8-0, 3-0; Ridgeland swept White County, 8-0, 4-0