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East Hall softball team confident after taking down defending state champs in opening game
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East Hall's Carley Cox dives for second base while Cherokee Bluff's Michaela Ragone attempts to tag her out during a game between Cherokee Bluff and East Hall at Cherokee Bluff High School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Brand new East Hall softball coach Anuel Burce knows the value of a hot start. 

Burce has grown familiar with the Lady Vikings as an assistant for the better part of the last decade, so he wasn’t overly concerned with having to earn the trust of the players after being promoted to head coach. But with a matchup against last year’s Class 3A state champion Franklin County to begin the year, he knew opening day would provide an excellent opportunity to spark a boost in confidence in his team. 

When East Hall came from behind to score three runs in the seventh and knock off the Lady Lions, 4-3, Tuesday in walk-off fashion, Burce’s beliefs were confirmed.

“It gives them that confidence and takes away some of that doubt of how good they can be,” he said. “... And I think it’s real big for those younger players that had that success early in those games to come a long way for the rest of the season and build their confidence as well.”

East Hall won another walk-off decision Friday night, beating Madison County 2-1 this time. It’s as perfect a start to a head coaching career as Burce could have hoped for. 

When he accepted the job earlier this year following the departure of Josh Joiner, Burce knew he had big shoes to fill. Joiner’s Lady Vikings were above .500 in each of the former coaches four years with the team and are coming off of three straight region championships. 

East Hall finished a perfect 12-0 in region play in 2018. 

So far, Burce’s own experience with the team combined with the help of his assistants has led to a “smooth transition.” He credits the relationship he’s formed with his players over the years for the Lady Vikings’ continued high level of play in the first game of the season. 

“I’ve always had a really good relationship with the girls as an assistant, and they’ve really bought into the message that we’re trying to get out there for them about playing together, playing with up tempo and just fighting and having each other’s backs in the good and bad moments,” Burce said. “Not letting somebody get down on themselves mentally over an error. There’s always that next play.”

The Lady Vikings return five seniors this year, a group that is aiming to sweep region championships throughout their time with the program, and one that has made Burce’s first offseason at the helm of the team much easier to manage. 

So far, the focus has been on bringing a high level of energy to every practice and game, and Burce already believes that “the girls are really bought in.” 

Based on the team’s first game, it’s hard to deny. 

Still, Burce claims East Hall is still far from a finished product. Tuesday’s win was a nice start, but Burce is taking it more as a sign of what’s to come for Lady Vikings softball and less of a job already well done.

“That definitely hopefully gives you the confidence that you need and lets you know what type of team that you could be in the long run if you keep your heads up and keep playing,” he said.

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