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High school softball: Second-round matchup against Cook High the next step in East Hall's shot at state title
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East Hall's Macy Banks throws a pitch against Cedar Grove during the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs Wednesday in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

For seniors Macy Banks and Abigail Brown, this Wednesday’s second-round home playoff series against Cook provides equal parts excitement and nostalgia. 

Banks and Brown were freshmen the last time the teams met, when the Lady Vikings lost to the Lady Hornets in the second round of the Class 3A tournament in 2016. Banks still hasn’t forgotten the sweep East Hall suffered at home four years earlier to the visitors from Adel.

“I feel like we gave them that my freshman year, but we are ready to redeem ourselves and hopefully be on the better side of that outcome,” she said. “If we have any year to do it, I feel like this would be a really good year. I would love to say we beat them, came back and kind of redeemed ourselves.”

Brown still remembers the last meeting too, and she believes the Lady Vikings have what it takes to flip the script this time around and win their way into the state tournament in Columbus. 

“I just think our freshman year, we didn’t know what really to expect, because none of us had been there in that situation before,” she said. “This season, we’re more prepared as a team.”

East Hall has everything going for it coming into the matchup. 

The team was undefeated in region play this season and is currently on a seven-game winning streak. The Lady Vikings haven’t lost in a month and have won four of the last five via the run rule. East Hall coach Anuel Burce said the team has been trying to walk the line between fun and seriousness as it prepares for its next opponent. 

“I think overall, mentally they’ve been as sound as they’ve been all season,” he said. “They’re having fun. They’re loose. They’re talking and just focused and locked in on our goal as we’ve been all season long. 

“They’re just treating it like it’s a game that it should be treated as. We don’t want to look past anybody, and we’ll just keep going. Just know that we’ve got to play our game and just take care of our things. Everything else should take care of itself.”

The Lady Vikings have been successful during the regular season in each of the past four years, but the team has struggled come playoff time. East Hall has come into the postseason as a No. 1 seed in each of the last three years before 2019, and each time it has been upset in the first or second round of the Class 3A state tournament. 

Still, Banks has reason to believe this year will be different. 

“I think the main reason we will get over that hump is because this year we are all mentally stronger,” she said. “As the seasons have gone on, we’ve all gotten mentally stronger, and that pretty much controls the whole game. So as long as we stay strong mentally, I think we have a good chance of making it.”

Brown added that the extra time the team has spent together off the field has done wonders for the players’ communication on it. 

Between community service excursions and regular unscheduled hangouts, the Lady Vikings have grown closer than ever in Burce’s first year at the helm of the team. 

“That was coach Burce’s main goal for us, was to become really close with one another,” Brown said. 

Now, Brown, Burce and Banks will be hoping all that time spent — both on and off the practice field — will start to pay off. 

The next step is dealing with Cook at home. After that, the sky is the limit for an East Hall team whose players are fully convinced they have what it takes to win it all this season.

“I have confidence in every single player on this team,” Banks said. “I feel like if they are just in the game, mentally and physically, they will do everything they put their minds to. They’ll make every play. They’ll get as many hits as needed. My confidence is really high. I think we can do it.” 

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