By JOEL COLEMAN
EUPORA – In a week full of obstacles, East Webster found a way to clear them all.
Neither a destroyed campus, nor an amped up arch rival could slow down the Wolverines this week as East Webster defeated Eupora 5-1 Saturday to complete a sweep in this first-round, Class 2A playoff series.
"This team just really came together," said East Webster head coach Meleah Brown. "At first, I was worried about everything getting them down and them not being mentally ready to play, but they all just came together even more."
Had East Webster, the runner-up from Region 3, been distracted over the course of the best-of-three set against Region 4 champion Eupora, it would have come as no surprise.
The Wolverines were dealing with torn-apart school grounds as a result of Wednesday's brutal storm system that battered the region, as well as the aftermath of the destruction which included a disrupted practice schedule and a relocation to Houston for Friday night's series-opening game.
Yet through it all, East Webster wouldn't be denied.
East Webster senior starting pitcher Swayze Hollenhead shut out Eupora for a 3-0 win Friday night in Houston before again handcuffing the Eupora offense on Saturday, going the distance while allowing five hits and striking out four to earn the win.
Yet the Mississippi State signee was perhaps outdone by her defense's glovework, which ended three separate Eupora threats with a double play of some sort.
"Everybody was just backing up Swayze," said East Webster third baseman Mamie Hollenhead, the younger sister of Swayze. "We always know Swayze's going to do her best so we all just have to do our best behind her to show her we can back her up."
East Webster (16-6), first thwarted an Eagle rally in the fourth inning.
After East Webster jumped out to a 2-0 advantage by clawing out a pair of runs off of Eupora starting pitcher Amber Dean in the top of the third, the Eagles began a surge of their own when Allie Steadman began the home half of the fourth with a leadoff single.
Dean followed with a bunt that was fielded by East Webster catcher Autumn Frost and thrown into right field, allowing Steadman to score and Dean to advance all the way to third with no one out.
However, Eupora couldn't push home the tying run.
Swayze Hollenhead induced a pop out from Eupora's Hannah McDowell for the inning's first out, then wiggled completely out of danger when Katelyn Rodgers' bunt attempt turned into a first-to-home double play.
"You've got to give (East Webster) credit," said Eupora head coach Trae Embry. "They made the plays."
East Webster also ended the fifth and seventh innings by turning double plays.
In the fifth, Eupora had Lindsey Williamson at second base and just one out when Sarah Grace Wade's liner to left was snared by Wolverines outfielder Katie Gordon who threw to second to double off Williamson.
In the seventh, the Eagles had runners at first and second with one out when Eupora's lone senior, Karlee Stewart, hit a looping liner that East Webster second baseman Chloe Roberson caught on a slide and threw to first to double off Williamson again, this time to end the game.
"Our defense stepped up," said Brown. "They made the plays they needed to make. Swayze threw strikes and didn't walk any, which was a great job on her part, but the defense had her back. Their minds were in the game the whole way. They knew what to do with the ball when they got it, that's why we got those double plays."
For Eupora (15-7), all the twin killings simply added to the frustration in a series where the Eagles seemingly couldn't buy a clutch hit.
"We couldn't get the timely hit with people on base," said Embry. "I don't think any pressure bothered us or anything like that. But they got a few key hits and hit a few balls pretty deep."
East Webster's Saturday offense was largely a team effort. Five different Wolverines - Frost, Cayley McClellan, Mamie Hollenhead, Roberson and Gordon - accounted for East Webster's runs in the game while McClellan, Bailey Williams and Roberson all had two hits.
Most of the damage came in the fifth and sixth innings as Frost, McClellan and Roberson all had run-scoring hits over the course of those two frames.
"Offensively, we got runners on base and just executed," said Brown. "We'd get runners over and somebody would come through with a hit."
The Wolverines now hope they can carry the magic of their first-round series into second-round action next week against Region 2 winner Mantachie.
As for her club's second-round home game, it's Brown's hope that the Wolverines can actually compete on their own field this time around, despite the condition of the battered East Webster campus.
"Our field is still intact, the fence is still intact, we've just got to clean up around the field," said Brown. "We're going to hope and try and pray that we can play our game at home."
As for Eupora, the Eagles now look to the future and in Embry's eyes, it's an incredibly bright future at that.
Still, Saturday's loss stung for both Eupora and its leader.
"We have just one senior (Stewart), so we'll be back," said Embry. "We'll just go back to work.
"But anytime you play (East Webster), you know it's going to be a competitive game. I felt like we competed well, we just didn't get over the hump."