Eastside’s Deja Stallard (16) rounds first base after smacking a triple against Northwood on Tuesday in their VHSL Group A, Division 1 quarterfinal game in Coeburn. (Ned Jilton II photos)
COEBURN — Northwood went into Tuesday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 softball quarterfinal game with a simple plan.
“The game plan was to not let (Lindsay Dean) beat us on the mound and at the plate,” said Northwood coach B.J. Buchanan.
So the Lady Panthers walked Eastside’s star in each of her first four plate appearances. But with Eastside leading 9-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Northwood’s catcher asked her coach for permission to pitch to Dean.
The result was a towering three-run homer that put an exclamation point on Eastside’s 12-1 victory.
“When my catcher came back in, I asked her, ‘You got any other bright ideas?’ She said no,” Buchanan said with a laugh.
Dean threw a three-hitter and the Lady Spartans got clutch hits from up and down the lineup to secure a return trip to Salem, where they won the Division 2 state title last season.
Eastside will face Madison on Friday in the semifinals after Madison beat Rappahannock 3-0 in 10 innings on Tuesday.
After four at-bats’ worth of frustration, Dean was relieved to get a pitch she could handle in the sixth inning.
“I like to be pitched to,” Dean said. “I hate being walked on purpose. I guess it happens, but when they pitched to me, I was so excited.”
Eastside managed to build a healthy lead without the benefit of Dean’s bat, and it was a total team effort.
Katie Mullins came through with a two-run single in the first to put the Lady Spartans up 2-0. Mullins and Erin Stanley each walked with the bases loaded in the second to double the lead.
Samantha Cole added an RBI single in the third and Stanley had a run-scoring single in the fifth as Eastside started to pull away.
“The other girls had to be ready to hit, and at first, we looked a little flustered by that, but then we started putting the ball into play,” Eastside coach Suzi Atwood said.
The Lady Spartans also got some help from Northwood, which committed five errors. Many of those, however, came as a result of Eastside’s aggressive baserunning.
“The bunts, the steals — they are just a good ballclub,” Buchanan said. “We made three or four bad plays, and you can’t do that against them.”
The Lady Panthers scored their lone run in the top of the fifth when Shaina Hamby came up with an RBI single. Northwood pitcher Micharla Carter showed a lot of poise, but a combination of fielding errors by the Lady Panthers and Eastside’s extensive postseason experience proved too much for Carter to overcome.
Her day culminated with Dean’s home run, which seemed to fly halfway to Salem. The Lady Spartans will complete the familiar trip later this week.
“Any time you’re heading to the Final Four, it’s a good day. It’s a good season,” Atwood said.