COVINGTON — A leadoff bunt single from Luella wasn’t the start Eastside’s Kailey Rusk had envisioned Thursday night.
While the baserunner later came around to score on an error, giving the Lions an early 1-0 advantage, Rusk didn’t allow a hit or a run from that point forward in what turned into a five-inning run-rule victory, 11-1 in favor of the Eagles.
Rusk’s unearned run kept the Lions afloat through the games’ first three innings with the Eagles clinging to a slim 4-1 advantage. It wasn’t until a 7-run fourth inning that eventually ended the game with three more outs recorded by Rusk in the circle.
“It wasn’t our best performance in the first half of this game,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “It was kind of slow and looked like we were just going through the motions. Just low energy, but they came around towards the end and got it done. We have to make sure that we don’t get too comfortable. I think it was a lesson for us moving forward.”
Rusk finished the game with 12 strikeouts and did her part at the plate, too. The senior finished her evening 3-for-3 at the plate with two singles and a double. Rusks’ courtesy runner, Riley Hannah, scored two of the Eagles’ 11 runs.
Sophomore Lauren Burnett drove in three runs for Eagles, two of which came on her inside-the-park home run in the first inning. Burnett drove home Ava Anglin and herself to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead heading into the second inning.
A double to left-center off the bat of Anglin extended the Eagles’ lead to 3-1 in the second. Alyssa Cruz scored with ease after reaching on an infield single two batters prior.
With Rusk retiring all six batters that she faced in the second and third innings via strikeout, it was Nyla Wright giving the Eagles a 4-1 lead on a groundout in the third inning.
Rusk needed 30 pitches in the fourth inning to escape without harm after walking back-to-back Lions with two outs. None too pleased with the home plate umpire’s strike zone, Rusk ended the inning with her 10th punch out with Lions occupying second and third base.
Looking to break the game open, the Eagles did just that in the bottom half of the fourth. Seven straight base hits started the inning, leading to six quick runs. Cruz stole home to score the innings’ first run before Anglin doubled home Natalie Ray.
Leading 6-1, Burnett knocked in her third run of the game before a 2-RBI double to left from Emma Hopper scored Burnett and Hannah.
Wright drove home her second run of the game in the at-bat that followed and Heather Henderson ending the scoring with a sacrifice fly to left.
All-in-all, the Eagles finished the game with 15 hits. Anglin joined Rusk as the only two Eagles to record three hits while Burnett, Hopper and Cruz each record two, respectively.
With the win, Rusk improved to 6-1 in the circle and has reached 90 strikeouts on the season in only 47 innings.
“She has been stellar for us all year,” Wood said of Rusk. “She’s great in not only what she adds for us in the circle, but offensively, too. I’m glad our bats did come through for her. Another solid pitching performance from her.”
The Eagles improved to 3-0 in Region 4-AAAA play with the defeat of Luella and 8-1 overall on the season. The Eagles’ only loss came in 12 innings to ranked Locust Grove earlier this month.
“This is a very special and talented group,” Wood said. “There’s a lot of chemistry and I’ve really enjoyed this group. They all bring something different to the team offensively and we have a lot of key defensive players, too. I think we’ve gotten off to a great start. We just have to make sure that we’re consistent don’t let up.”
Dates with Loganville in non-region play and Region 4 opponent Druid Hills next week will be the Eagles’ final two games before their chance at redemption against Hampton, who defeated the Eagles in both meetings last season to win the region championship.
The two powers will face off on Sept. 10 at Eastside.
“That will be the big game and I think that will be a pitchers dual like it was last year,” Wood said. “We are excited to be able to play them at home. We still have some time to prep for that, but I think it’s always a great outing and something that we look forward to in our region.”