COVINGTON — Eastside’s Kailey Rusk had zero intentions of letting their cross-town rival Alocvy spoil their season-opener on the road Thursday night.
With one swing of the bat in the top of the first, a deep fly ball to right cleared the fence with ease, allowing both Rusk and leadoff hitter Natalie Ray to jog around the bases with two early runs for the Eagles.
The early 2-0 lead that Rusk — a University of North Georgia pitching commit — gave herself to work with in the circle was all the momentum she needed en route to a dominant 12-1 run-rule victory for the Eagles in six innings.
In the circle, Rusk struck out 10 Tigers and allowed just two hits on 80 pitches. At the plate, a three-hit performance from the senior matched that of Ray and Kelsey Ellis, who were both responsible for three hits of their own.
Rusk was also responsible for an immaculate inning pitched in the third after striking out the side on the minimum nine pitches needed for the feat.
“She hit her spots and was working ahead,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “We were able to put some runs up early and I think that kind of helps her and her defense relax. I thought she did a great job.”
Alcovy (1-1) starting pitcher Mackenzie Rodgers was not as fortunate as Rusk in the circle, due in large part to the Alcovy defense, who caused two of the first three runs of the game to go unearned.
Rodgers allowed seven hits in her first four innings of work, but was charged with only one earned run before the floodgates were opened in the fifth and sixth innings by the Eastside (1-0) offense.
Nine of the Eagles’ 12 runs were scored in the final two innings, including six in the sixth.
Four errors charged to the Alcovy defense was the topic of conversation during Tigers head coach Miranda Lamb’s postgame message to her team.
“I think we reverted back to the old Alcovy,” Lamb said. “We left that out in right field (after the game). We started off looking really good. I think the momentum shifted on our side, even when we got that third out from Janee (Bellamy). They were rolling and were pumped about it and then we stopped playing defense and supporting our pitcher. We can’t do that.”
Trailing 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Rusk had set down all nine Alcovy batters in order to start the game. A bunt single to start the fourth from leadoff hitter Laci Thompson broke up the no-hitter and the senior later scored on a Bellamy double to left.
With a chance to cut the lead to 3-2, Bellamy rounded second and third thanks to an Eastside error in left on the same play, but was gunned out at home by shortstop Lauren Burnett to end the inning.
With the Tigers within striking distance, any chances they had of completing the comeback were diminished in the fifth and sixth innings.
An Ellis double to left extended the Eastside lead to three and a double to right by Emma Hopper extended the lead to four in the fifth before six more runs were scored in the sixth.
“It was important for us to get started on the right foot for the season,” Wood said. “We definitely know that there are some things that we have to fine tune before we get into our region play. Leaving a lot of baserunners on, we have to fix that and do a better job of situational hitting and defense, as well.”
Rusk pointed to her rise ball and screw ball for making her first start of the season a successful one.
“It felt great because we don’t play them much,” Rusk said. “So when we get to, it’s a good time. That was a good performance, but I think I could have done better. My energy was kind of low because I was getting kind of tired. But at the end, I picked it back up.”
Lamb commended the pitching performance of Rodgers and said after the game that to face a pitcher as good as Rusk early in the season can only help better their chances moving forward.
“It is good because our region play starts next week,” Lamb said. “It’s crazy because it’s Week 1 of the season, but it starts next week and our region is always stacked. I know that this will help us. We have two games on Saturday with fast pitchers, so hopefully we can get used to that. We have to hit the ball. The faster pitchers that we see, the more successful I think we will be if we can adjust.”
As for Wood, working on situational softball will be a big point of emphasis moving forward in the season.
“I saw a lot of good things tonight and we have a lot to build on,” Wood said. “We’re really just trying to focus on the fundamentals. There were times that we did it perfectly (tonight) and there were times where we have to do a better job.”