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Worth swept in Sweet 16 shocker

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SYLVESTER -- Tears, tough tears -- the kind that land hard and stain jerseys and hearts -- rained down Wednesday evening on the Worth diamond, where the best girls softball team in Southwest Georgia saw the sun set on their brilliant season as it ended in a sweep to Eastside in the GHSA Class AAA Sweet 16.

"We didn't even know who we were,'' said a stunned Heather Ellis, fighting back tears and looking for a way to describe the end.

It was difficult to recognize Worth's kids, the ones who had played so well for months, the ones who had ripped off that 28-2 record -- the ones who looked destined to go to the Elite Eight in Columbus next week.

Instead, it will be Eastside's playoff-rich girls who head to Columbus next week after sweeping a doubleheader from Worth, 5-0, in Game 1 and 10-6 in Game 2 to win the best two-out-of-three series in the Sweet 16 round of the Class AAA state playoffs.

This one hurt -- way down deep, the kind of hurt that stays the kind that won't go away "until next season,'' said Ellis, a junior. "It won't happen again.''

But it's now happened twice against Eastside, which beat Worth two years ago when the Lady rams went to their first Elite Eight. This was going to avenge that loss for Worth, which was ranked No. 3 in the state poll and hadn't lost to a Class AAA team all season.

"You don't hit the ball and you don't play good defense, and guess what? You get beat,'' said Worth coach Russell Beard, who had pointed toward Columbus all year. "Eastside is a real good team. They're the best-hitting ball club we have seen all year. Their 3, 4 and 5 hitters really hit the ball hard. Of course, when you give them four and five outs an inning, it's going to be hard to beat anyone.''

That's the epilogue the Lady Rams leave behind, one filled with errors and mistakes that were so atypical of the season they had. In a strange and brutal twist Wednesday, it was if Worth spent the afternoon and evening looking in a mirror and watching Eastside play Worth-type ball.

Just as Worth had done all season, the Lady Eagles seemed to be able to make every play, and belted the ball like Murderer's Row -- just the way Worth had for 30 games.

"It was a nightmare,'' said Lauren Potts, who pitched the opener and played second in the nightcap. "It really was.''

And to make it worse, there was a bitter irony to Eastside's flawless day in the field.

"We played exceptionally well,'' Eastside coach Jason Stokes said. "And we have had our struggles this year defensively.''

Not against Worth.

Eastside's kids backed up pitcher Taylor Causey with one play after another, and Causey was magnificent on the mound, mixing her pitches and changing speeds throughout both games. She tossed a three-hit shutout in the opener, her eighth of the season, and then pitched just well enough to win the nightcap. It didn't hurt that she had a two-run double in the opener to lift Eastside to a 2-0 lead and then belted a two-run homer in the fourth to make it an 8-1 game.

Eastside hit three homers in the second game. Amanda Hawkins hit a three-run shot in the second to give Eastside a 6-0 lead, and Kenya Shakoor hit a two-run homer in the fourth to give Eastside a 10-4 lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Two of the three homers produced unearned runs because errors in each of those innings gave Eastside a chance to keep the innings alive.

That's why Beard was so frustrated. Those stellar gloves that had defined Worth's season just weren't there Wednesday.

"They wouldn't have scored their first six runs in the second game if not for the errors,'' said Beard, who watched his team make four errors in the first two innings that led to an early 6-0 lead for Eastside.

Two errors in the first game opened up a four-run fourth inning for the Lady Eagles, who got two-run singles from Bianca Reed and Shakoor to give Causey a 4-0 lead.

Causey took care of the rest, allowing only three singles in the opener. Heather Ellis,

Brittany Cornwell and Potts had the singles for a team that had been hitting .340 for the season.

"She mixed her pitches and kept their batters off balance in both games,'' Stokes said.

The only time Causey was in trouble was when the bottom of Worth's order ignited a three-run fourth inning as Kaitlyn Parton and Cornwell singled and Kelly Weaver walked to load the bases for Molly Maxwell, the ninth hitter in the lineup who ripped a two-run single. Kimmy Lee followed with a sacrifice fly, but Causey struck out Morgan Bell and Haley Ellis hit a hard shot to short, but was thrown out on a bang-bang play at first.

Eastside came right back with a two-out two run homer from Shakoor, who wouldn't have batted if not for a mental error in the field. It was that kind of day for Worth.

"We weren't intimidated by them,'' Stokes said. "We came into this game with the goal of not letting two particular players on their team beat us, and we did that.''

He was talking about the Ellis twins, who have led Worth all season. Heather, who was hitting .557 coming in, had three hits but didn't drive in any runs, and Haley, who was batting .620, didn't erupt until the second game when she slammed an RBI double off the wall in the third and then hit her 13th homer of the year -- a solo shot in the seventh.

But it was too late.

"We didn't get the big hits when we needed them,'' Haley said, tears streaming down her face. "Everything went wrong. We made too many errors. We didn't hit when we needed to, and we made too many mental mistakes, on the field and on the base paths.''

And Eastside (20-15) did everything right.

"I don't care about our record,'' Stokes said. "We play a tough schedule to get ready for the playoffs. The playoffs are all that matter. And we were ready (Wednesday).''

Worth was shocked, but Beard knows just how far his team came this season.

"We had a great season,'' he said. "I'm real proud of them. We're not going to hang our heads down. We're going to walk away from this and do what we have to do to get better.''