For the first time in program history, the East Hall softball team is Columbus bound.
The Lady Vikings took down Cook 7-6 in 10 innings to start their Round of 16 doubleheader at East Hall Park, then turned around and muscled past the Lady Hornets 11-2 in Game 2 to advance to the state tournament.
“I’m at a loss for words, truthfully,” East Hall coach Anuel Burce said after the game. “The belief these girls have in themselves as a team and never giving up — I’m excited. This right here is proof of what we should be and what we should do.”
Macy Banks started both games, earning the pair of wins, while fellow senior Abigail Brown went 3 for 6 on the day and knocked in five RBIs.
Brown got the scoring started in Game 1 for the Lady Vikings with a two-run homer in the first inning that erased an early 1-0 deficit. Cook jumped back out on top with four runs in the fifth inning, and held a 5-3 advantage all the way into the bottom of the seventh.
With two outs and runners at the corners, Brown lined a single to left field to bring in one run, and Calli Hardison tied it up one batter later to send the game to extra innings. East Hall appeared to win the game in the bottom of the eighth with a base runner interference call, but the decision was eventually overturned after a discussion between umpires and the contest continued on.
The Lady Vikings won the game two innings later with an infield single from Gracie Ausborn in the bottom of the 10th.
Game 2 was much more routine.
East Hall scored four runs in the second inning, and two runs a piece in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, jumping all over the Lady Hornets and ensuring a spot at the state tournament in Columbus.
Banks was calm, clinical and effective throughout Wednesday’s doubleheader.
Despite getting knocked around for four runs midway through the first game, Banks didn’t let the pressure get to her, allowing only one more Lady Hornet base runner to reach home for the remainder of the game.
Though she was dealing with cramps coming into Game 2, Banks persisted in completing the entire contest, throwing a total of 17 innings on the day. Despite the extended work, Banks actually saved her best stuff for last, retiring seven of the last nine batters she faced, and striking out three of them.
“That’s a great job,” Burce said of Banks’ performance. “She’s been battle tested, and she’s taken some hard losses coming into this. But just going and knowing she’s got the defense behind her, she knows she just has to keep going.”
ABIGAIL BROWN’S HOME RUN DERBY
Senior catcher Abigail Brown has come to be known as “Downtown Brown” according to Burce, and she backed it up Wednesday night.
She launched a two-run homer in her first at-bat, then followed it up with a huge RBI single in the seventh inning of Game 1 to keep the Lady Vikings alive in the contest.
Brown was just as effective in the second game, when her second two-run homer of the night put East Hall up by five in the fourth inning and turned the momentum permanently in the Lady Vikings’ favor. Brown was also walked intentionally twice on the night as the Lady Hornets attempted to take her powerful hitting out of the game.
“She’s good,” Burce said of Brown. “She’s one of our top hitters. Great hitter coming through the program her whole career. She can go yard at any time, any part of the field.”
After three consecutive years of falling just short of making it to Columbus, Brown said there was no chance she was going to let her final opportunity get away from her.
“My mind was there, and I was focused in the game,” she said. “All I wanted was to win. I was just really focused.”
READY FOR COLUMBUS
Immediately after Banks delivered the last strikeout of the game that sent East Hall to the state tournament for the first time in program history, Banks and Brown met in between the circle and home plate in an embrace of relief. Soon after, the rest of the team flocked from their positions on the field and the dugout, swarming together in a huddle of victory.
It’s a celebration that has been a long time coming for the Lady Vikings.
The team has been a No. 1 seed coming into state playoffs in each of the last four seasons, but has fallen in the first or second round on every previous campaign. But everything finally came together for East Hall.
It’s the last chance at a state title for seniors Banks, Brown, Carley Cox, Gracie Smith and Peyton Turner, and they plan on making the most of it.
“We have worked so hard on this as a team,” Brown said. “This was our seniors’ main goal, our top priority, since we were freshman, and we finally got over the hump. We’re really excited.”