East Hall softball team staves off elimination in second round of playoffs
Brown's late homer helps Lady Vikings stay alive after narrow Game 1 loss
East Hall's Macy Banks (8) pitches the ball during the second round of the Class 3A state playoff tournament between East Hall High and Bremen High on Wednesday in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

As Abigail Brown rounded third base, she spread her arms like an airplane and weaved in and out of the basepath until making her final descent into home plate.

Her spirits were soaring, so why shouldn’t she be?

Brown hit a go-ahead, three-run home run to help the East Hall High softball team stave off elimination with a 7-4 win against Bremen High in Game 2 of Wednesday’s playoff doubleheader at East Hall Park in Gainesville. 

The Lady Vikings (21-10) fell 8-7 in the opening Class 3A second-round game and were tied in the sixth inning before Brown’s heroics.

“I was thinking to myself that I had to do something,” Brown said. “I couldn’t let them continue catching up and beat us. I told myself that there were two strikes, so I had to swing at anything close. When it happened, I just felt excitement.”

The deciding Game 3 is set for 3 p.m. today in Gainesville, with the winner advancing to the eight-team championship tournament starting next Thursday in Columbus.

A win would send top-seeded East Hall to that stage for the first time in program history. Wednesday marked the team’s first-ever victory in the second round of the playoffs, and the historic moment came with plenty of drama in both games.

The Lady Vikings fell behind 7-0 early in Game 1 before rallying to nearly win the opener. Then the No. 3 seed Lady Blue Devils (20-13) came back from a deficit in Game 2 and brought the tying run to the plate in the final inning before East Hall evened the series.

“Right now, I’m feeling confident,” Lady Vikings coach Josh Joiner said. “In those last few innings of the first game, my confidence went way up. I had no doubt we would win the second game.”

Macy Banks pitched all 14 innings of the doubleheader for East Hall, rebounding from a troublesome start and working around a sometimes undisciplined defense. She allowed only five runs over the final 12 frames and stranded as many runners during that span.

“She threw a lot of pitches tonight, maybe even over 200,” Joiner said. “She was a bulldog out there. She just wanted it tonight.”

Bremen did most of its damage against her in the second inning of Game 1, stunning the home crowd by reeling off seven runs. Shortstop Kristen Green’s grand slam was one of five hits in the frame for the Lady Blue Devils, who also benefited from two East Hall errors.

The run-rule was in play when Bremen sent a runner home in the top of the fourth, but the Lady Vikings responded in the bottom half on first baseman Peyton Turner’s RBI single.

But after merely hanging on during the first five frames, East Hall threatened to overcome the deficit altogether over the last two innings.

The Lady Vikings scored two runs in the sixth inning and four more in the seventh, bringing the winning run to the plate before the furious rally fell short. Seven of East Hall’s 10 hits in Game 1 came during that stretch, and a pair of Lady Blue Devils errors aided the cause.

“I always try to be a leader out there,” said Brown, the team’s catcher. “After that bad inning, I told the girls that if we want to reach our goals, we were going to have to work together, every single one of us.”

Left fielder Aaliyah Stringer, third baseman Steffanie Redmon, second baseman Kaitlyn Daniel and Turner all drove in runs during the rally, and Banks was robbed of a potential three-run homer in the sixth that ended up being a sac fly.

In the half-hour break between games, Joiner focused on the positive ending his team produced despite falling one run short.

“In a loss, you have to find something positive,” the coach said. “And when you find something that positive, you’ve got to focus on that. I honestly didn’t say much. I just tried to keep their minds on the good things we did in that game.”

Indeed, the Lady Vikings’ momentum resurfaced with three consecutive hits in the top of the third inning of Game 2. 

Redmon and Brown scorched infield singles that glanced off Bremen gloves, setting the stage for Banks’ run-scoring double to break a scoreless tie. The latter two players came home to give East Hall a 3-0 edge when a popup fell between two defenders just inside the right field line.

“We definitely came out with more intensity in the second game after how finished the first one,” Brown said. 

East Hall’s resolve briefly broke over the next three innings as the Lady Blue Devils knotted the score at 3-3 with a pair of unearned runs and a two-out RBI double. 

But right after Bremen tied the game, Lady Vikings shortstop Jenny Lopez and Redmon each singled and came home on Brown’s homer. Center fielder Carley Cox tacked on an insurance run with an RBI groundout in the following inning, and Banks gave up one run before inducing a game-sealing fielder’s choice.

“I attribute a lot of what we did in Game 2 to what we did at the end of Game 1,” Joiner said. “ … Something we’ve done well this year is pushing through bad innings, pushing through to the next play and next at-bat. We did that tonight.”

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