COVINGTON — Hampton was a mountain Eastside couldn’t topple in 2018.
In three games against the Hornets, the Eagles fell in their lone Region 4-AAAA regular season meeting before falling twice in the annual October region tournament.
On Tuesday, playing the Hornets on their home field for the first time, the Eagles got their revenge. Senior Kailey Rusk out-dualed Hornets ace Skylar Trahan in the circle and drove in the games’ only run, a sixth-inning double, to help propel the Eagles to a 1-0 victory.
With the win, the Eagles (11-1, 5-0) take over sole possession of first place in region play and now control their own destiny for the rights to host the region tournament with less than one month remaining in the regular season.
“It does feel good to get a win against them, especially on our home field,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “I’m proud of the girls. We’ve been waiting to play them for a year. I thought they came out ready to play and prepared.”
With both Rusk, a University of North Georgia commit and Trahan, a University of South Carolina commit, cruising through their first three innings of work, it was the Hornets who nearly drew first blood in the fourth inning.
A triple to right-center off the bat of Trahan with one out, Rusk’s first hit allowed on the night, set the Hornets up with a prime opportunity to grab a 1-0 lead. After Kelsey Ellis nearly caught the liner at second base, Rusk’s battery-mate, Heather Henderson, quickly erased Trahan at third with a slick pickoff play.
In what appeared to be a hit-and-run call, Hampton cleanup hitter E’Mya Munford was unable to get her bat on the ball, allowing Henderson enough time to throw down to third baseman Alysee Dobbs, who then tagged out Trahan for the second out of the inning.
“We work on that a lot,” Wood said of Henderson’s pickoff. “We drill that in practice and we always expect it in extra innings, but we’re fortunate that we were able to come through and capitalize on their mistake.”
As fate would have it, Munford dumped a single into shallow right field on the very next pitch that would have scored Trahan with ease, but instead resulted in nothing as Rusk managed to strike out Tyler Ellison to end the inning.
Wood raved over the vast improvement of Henderson, who took over the starting catcher duties midway through last season as a freshman.
“She has grown so much as a catcher,” Wood said of Henderson. “Catching for a pitcher like Kailey, you have to mature quickly. She’s really come a long way and has been an asset for us this year.”
The next true scoring opportunity for either team came in the bottom of the fifth with the Eagles at the plate still in a scoreless tie. Henderson began the inning with a single to center and was later bunted over to second by Ellis.
Following a strikeout, Alyssa Cruz reached base safely thanks to an error, bringing leadoff hitter Natalie Ray up to the plate with runners on the corners with two outs. Quickly finding herself in an 0-2 hole, Ray roped a ball into right, but an out was made to end the threat.
“(Natalie) had a good at-bat,” Wood said. “We did a much better job of putting balls in play and putting the bat on the ball. We just couldn’t get things going all together. We know that every time we play Hampton, it’s going to be a battle.”
With thunderstorms brewing around the area for much of the night, the clouds finally gave way in the bottom of the sixth with sophomore Lauren Burnett at the plate. With rain starting to fall, Burnett took advantage and laced her second double of the night into the left-centerfield gap with one out.
“I got most of the same pitches, but (Trahan) was changing a little bit and we took advantage of it,” Burnett said. “It was great. I was so happy. It was such a great experience and I’m so glad that we beat (Hampton).”
With rain starting to fall harder with each passing second, in stepped Rusk, who on the sixth pitch of her at-bat, doubled to center to score Burnett standing up.
Leading 1-0, Rusk cruised through the Hampton lineup one more time and after striking out her 14th batter of the night, got Ellison to fly out to center, ending the game with the Eagles celebrating.
Rusk, who credited her success against the Hornets to a mixture of her curveball and rise ball, knew she had the game won after her RBI double.
“It was so great because once we got the lead, you’re like, ‘Oh, we got this,’” Rusk said. “Especially since it was the sixth inning.”
Burnett (2-for-3) and Rusk (2-for-3) finished the game with four of the Eagles’ six hits on a night where the Eagles did not strike out much against Trahan.
“Lauren is one that we didn’t have last year,” Wood said. “I thought she looked great at the plate tonight. She was swinging at good pitches and did a great job for us. She came through and gave us the hits that we needed.”
The Eagles will play host to Ola Wednesday night looking to win their 12th game of the season.