COVINGTON — Heather Henderson was greedy on the base paths Tuesday night in the first round of the Class AAAA state softball playoffs.
The Eastside sophomore’s perfectly executed bunt for a base hit wasn’t enough in her eyes. After taking a glimpse at second base and realizing the bag was open, she took it. Alysee Dobbs, who was successfully bunted over to third base on the play, then stole home, allowing Henderson to slide into third safely.
“That’s just heads up and being smart on the bases,” Eastside head coach Heather Wood said. “I always tell them that it’s not how fast you are. You have to be smart and make sure that you have good instincts and (Heather) did. That’s something that we really try to work on with all of them.”
The heads up play gave Eastside a 6-0 lead in Game 1 at home against Upson-Lee, a series they went on to win with ease, 10-0, 12-0, to advance themselves into the second round for the fifth year in a row.
Senior pitcher Kailey Rusk shut out the Knights in both games, marking the first two times Upson-Lee has been shut out in a game all season. At the plate, the Eagles were led by sophomore Lauren Burnett, who racked up 10 RBIs on six hits, five in each game.
As a team, the Eagles finished with 26 hits in the doubleheader.
“The way we hit against Hampton and have the last few games, we knew we had to step up and had to adjust,” Wood said. “We’ve really been working on that in practice. Our key players have got to hit the ball. That’s what it comes down to and (Lauren) is one of our solid players.”
When she’s swinging the bat and Natalie (Ray) and Kailey, it makes a difference. I thought she did great tonight. Probably one of her best series that she’s had as far as seeing the ball and driving it.”
Eastside’s 10-0 victory in Game 1 did not come easy. While the Knights failed to score a run, Rusk was tested in the circle early on and worked herself out of trouble. The Knights left three runners in scoring position and five runners on base in total across five innings.
At the plate, the Eagles wasted little time in grabbing a 2-0 lead thanks to an RBI double from Burnett and an RBI single from Dobbs. In the third inning, the Eagles struck for two more runs on three hits. Henderson drove home the games’ third run before JaKirya Lemmons drove home the fourth.
Leading 5-0, the Eagles finished the game off in the fifth with five more runs. Lemmons drove home her second run of the game before a Burnett bases-clearing double to right-center ended the game.
Serving as the away team for Game 2, it was a Rusk 2-run home run to right that got the scoring started for the Eagles. Rusk’s no-doubter gave the Eagles all the breathing room they needed to cruise to a 12-0 victory.
“It’s their last home game for our seniors, so that was big for her,” Wood said of Rusk’s home run. “She crushed it. She had several good at-bats these past two games. It’s a sentimental game because they know that this is it at home. So I was glad to see her have a big at-bat.”
Burnett doubled Eastside’s lead with RBI’s five and six on the night in the third inning on a liner into left. She later stole home in the inning to extend the Eagles’ lead to 5-0.
After striking for five more runs in the fourth on five hits, including a 2-RBI single from Ava Anglin and a 2-RBI single from Henderson, Burnett capped the scoring with a 2-run inside-the-park home run in the fifth.
“It makes me feel much better,” Burnett said after struggling against Hampton last week in the Region 4-AAAA championship. “Most of the pitches that I got were consistent, so I pretty much knew when a changeup was coming. First-pitch strike, half the time I swung at it.”
In the circle, Rusk was much stronger in Game 2, allowing just one hit while striking out seven on 60 pitches.
“(Upson-Lee) made solid contact,” Wood said. “They put the ball in play. We know that from this point forward, we’re going to face better hitting and better contact teams. We have to make sure that we’re hitting the ball and helping our our pitcher as much as possible and make our plays on defense.”
Wood credited her defense’s performance on the night, a unit that recorded only two errors across the two games.
The Eagles will now gear up for a trip to Ringgold, Georgia next Tuesday where they will face the defending state champion Heritage Generals in a best-of-three series.