After a rocky start prior to region play, the East Hall softball team has managed to turn things around.
The Lady Vikings (6-5, 5-0) entered a first-ever meeting against brand-new region opponent Cherokee Bluff (2-8, 0-5) On Tuesday, and they kept on rolling, taking out the Lady Bears 6-0 to keep their unbeaten 7-3A mark intact.
“The kids just have a different kind of focus when they play region games,” softball coach Josh Joiner said. “They know how important it is.”
Macy Banks (6-1) picked up the win for East Hall, pitching a complete game with nine strikeouts while allowing just four hits. Banks, who has started in each of the Lady Vikings’ region victories, was on fire from the get-go when she struck out two of Cherokee Bluff’s first three batters in the top of the first inning to get the momentum going for East Hall.
Joiner said having an ace like Banks on the team has been instrumental in the Lady Vikings’ success so far this season.
“It makes everything so much easier,” Joiner said. “I can focus on different things because I don’t have to worry about her.”
Banks said she wasn’t sure what to expect coming into the game, as it was her first time facing off against the Lady Bears. But after a couple of early strikeouts, she quickly realized it was going to be a good night.
“After the first six outs, I was definitely in the groove and knew what to throw to them,” Banks said.
And she backed it up.
Banks came out in the third inning and struck out the first two Cherokee Bluff batters. The third managed to knock the first pitch she saw back to Banks, who caught the liner to end the inning.
While Banks took care of things on defense, it was her catcher that got things done offensively. Still scoreless in the bottom of the first, Abigail Brown stepped up to the plate for the first time with runners on first and second.
Cherokee Bluff pitcher Kristina Schwab threw Brown a fast ball inside, and her eyes lit up.
“Seeing the pitch come in, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, yes,’” she said.
Brown hit the ball deep to left, over the “Welcome to Valhalla” sign on the left field wall and straight into the scoreboard. The homer gave the Lady Vikings a 3-0 lead, and would end up being the decider as they proceeded to play six more innings of shutout ball.
“Always, you want to score first,” Joiner said of the hit. “That’s our mindset.”
Brown finished the day 2 for 3, adding a single in the third frame. Brooke Hewell scored courtesy runner Makelvia Holder off a single of her own in the third. In the bottom of the sixth, Alexis Burce and Jennifer Lopez each drove in a run to bring the score to the final of 6-0.
As East Hall enters the bulk of its region schedule, the Lady Vikings are peaking at the right time. And as they continue their bid for a third-straight region title, Joiner said his formula for another successful season remains a simple one.
“Just keep winning,” he said.
East Hall will try to keep that streak going when it visits North Hall on Thursday in Gainesville. Cherokee Bluff will attempt to get its first region win against Greater Atlanta Christian at home on Thursday.