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Eastside’s 2012 title-game win etched in minds of Atwood, Lady Spartans

Kevin Mays • Jun 17, 2020 at 1:00 PM

COEBURN — Eastside softball coach Suzi Atwood has seen plenty of pictures of her teams at Coeburn and Eastside.

One seems to stick out.

The photo shows Samantha Cole, arms raised, getting ready to cross home plate in the 2012 VHSL Division 2 championship game against John Battle. Cole’s run came from a smack off the right-field fence by Alana Johnson Greear, known then simply as A.J., in the sixth inning.

The run was the only one in the state title game featuring the two Region D powers. Eastside took a 1-0 victory.

“Samantha Cole was so quick and covered so much ground,” Atwood said. “She was on second when A.J. hit the ball to right and she never slowed down until she crossed home plate.

“I will always love that picture of her crossing home plate with her arms up in the air.”

Cole’s celebration is just one of a plethora of Atwood’s memories of Eastside’s historic win.

It’s the only state softball championship in the school’s history to date. That record can be equaled, but the program holds a Wise County mark that cannot.

The county consolidated its six high schools into three in the fall of 2011. The following spring, Eastside softball became the first team sport in the county to win a state championship following consolidation.

TOGETHERNESS

The majority of the team consisted of athletes from Coeburn who had played on the same squad since Little League. Consolidation brought in a couple of players from St. Paul.

The team chemistry remained strong, Atwood said.

“There was never any friction,” she said. “All the girls were drama- free and just enjoyed playing ball. They actually enjoyed every activity that we did.”

ROLLING INTO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

The team continued to get stronger with each week and each game that season, overcoming some tough challenges along the way to the title showdown with Battle.

“We didn’t start playing our best ball that year,” Atwood said. “Our hitting got much better as the season progressed. By the time that we entered the state tournament, the bottom of our lineup was on fire.

“Brianne Atwood, Madison Powers and Katie Mullins were hitting about .500 during that time. Alana Johnson was hitting the ball hard. So when you have a whole lineup hitting that well, you start to feel pretty confident with them.

“They were also so smart and fast on the bases. Lindsay Lawson, Megan Hall and Madison Powers were always looking to advance another base.”

Lawson, the state player of the year, was a senior leader on a squad with four seniors total.

“We had quite a few seniors who dreamed of winning a state title,” Lawson said. “We knew we had an opportunity that not many teams get. We were always trying to challenge ourselves and push each other to be better.”

“We always had so much fun together,” Brianne Atwood said. “We played ball together since we were in Little League. Every trip was an adventure.”

Cole was a junior but close with her senior teammates and the entire club.

“That season was unlike any season we had,” she said. “We were stacked from the top of the lineup all the way to the bottom. We knew that if there was going to be a year to do it, that was it.”

Brianne Casteel Bailey was the Eastside volleyball coach and directed the Lady Spartans to a state runner-up finish in the fall. She also was an assistant softball coach.

Many of the softball players were also on the school’s volleyball team that fell one win short of capturing a title in the fall, which led to even more determination on the diamond in the spring.

“That was a very rare group of girls,” Bailey said. “It’s very rare you get to take part in two state championships in the same school year.”

THE GAME

Eastside entered the state softball final with a 23-4 record. The Lady Spartans’ last loss that season came in the Region D championship game — against Battle.

“We played John Battle once before in the Region D championship and lost. So playing them in the state final, I kept reassuring the girls that we could beat them,” Bailey said.

Greear got the message.

“I was nervous during the state game because Battle beat us in the region game. But I think that gave us the fire to make sure this game had a different outcome,” she said.

The nerves were obvious on both sides, but not on the mound. Battle’s Abby Hensley kept Eastside’s power-hitting squad honest throughout the contest, but the Lady Spartans answered with their own force on the mound in sophomore Lindsay Dean.

Dean threw a five-hit shutout, one that included dramatic catches in right field from Courtney Marrs and solid play from Lawson at first base, Hall at second, Greear at third, Cole at shortstop, Erin Stanley at catcher, Powers in center field and Atwood in left.

“Throughout the season we had some really tough games and had to really come together to fight to win,” Dean said. “The state (championship) game was a really tough and stressful game because we previously lost to them in the regional game.”

Battle upped the stress a notch by loading the bases in the third inning, but the Lady Spartans escaped unscathed.

“The third-inning jam was so stressful, but I knew that I could trust my team and I believed we could get through it,” said Dean, who never really faced a threat the rest of the way.

THE SIXTH

In the top of the sixth, the dream became a reality for Eastside.

With the speedy Cole standing on second base, Greear delivered the shot to right field. Cole took off and didn’t stop running until she crossed home.

“With Sam on base, I knew my team needed me to come through by either moving her to a scoring position or to produce an RBI,” Greear said. “When I saw that outside pitch, I had to wait and try to drive it to the right side, and thankfully that happened.

“I have always struggled with patience in the box, so I was excited that I actually took that pitch to the right side.”

It was a magic moment that created a memory to last a lifetime.

“I remember getting to second and watching Sam make it home and just watching our dugout and stands go crazy,” Greear said. “It was a great feeling and I still remember how great it felt knowing our work all those years finally paid off.”

Said Cole: “The anxiety from the game being tied was awful. So I was just happy that we finally could breathe. It was definitely something that I will never forget.”

The run was a confidence boost, and Eastside held Battle’s solid offense in check in the sixth and seventh innings to secure the state trophy.

Atwood felt hers was a team destined to win.

“Those girls were so self-motivated that practices were really smooth,” the coach said. “One thing I remember about that team was that they spent time getting loose by dancing and laughing trying to relax before a game. It worked for them. They were always laughing and giggling.

“I always felt like we had a shot at winning a state championship. In softball, it can come down to one hit and you just have to be prepared to take advantage of that hit or a lucky bounce.

“The 2012 team was always focused when they stepped on the field.”

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