MASON — Eaton’s softball team was looking to finally break through and claim the program’s first district championship when it met state-ranked Clinton-Massie in a Division II Southwest District championship game on Friday, May 18, at Mason High School
The Eagles will have to wait another year though as they were limited to just a pair of seventh inning hits in a 6-0 loss to the Falcons.
The loss was the second straight in a district final for Eaton, which until last year had never made it out of sectional play. Eaton fell 11-1 to Springfield Shawnee last year.
“It stinks losing again,” Eaton coach Maggie Neanen said following the loss. “But, like I’ve said (before) we need to get here to experience this. We’re still pretty young. We started two freshman and two sophomores so experience will pay off eventually.”
The game looked to be pitcher’s dual and defensive battle until the fifth as Eaton’s Annika Gels and Massie’s Taylor Florea made it tough for opposing batters.
Florea and the Falcons got the boost they needed when Natalie Lay belted a big home run in the fifth inning to give the Falcons a 4-0 lead and some breathing room.
Florea had control of the Eagles right from the outset. Despite walking the second batter she faced, she retired 19 straight batters and didn’t give up her first hit until two were out in the seventh. She finished with a two-hitter and struck out 12.
Eaton junior Becca Mowen broke up Florea’s bid for a no-hitter with a two-out single up the middle. Freshman Lexi Miller followed with another single up the middle, but the next two batters struck out to end the game.
“I’m proud of them for not giving up,” Neanen said. “It was a great defensive game until the fifth inning on an extremely good hitting team. They only had seven hits. Annika pitched well. Offensively, we needed to do something better.”
Massie scored a run in the first and the score stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth.
With two outs, Fay launched a shot over the right-center field fence for a three-run homer, which seemed to deflate the Eagles and energize the Falcons.
Until then, Masssie coach Anthony Lauer was concerned.
Lauer admitted he was more than a bit nervous as the score remained 1-0 going to the fifth inning. Despite Florea’s dominance, the Falcons were facing a scrappy Eaton team that was one swing of the bat away from a tie score.
“I was a little nervous,” said Lauer. “We did not hit the ball as I expected us to hit the ball. When it was 1-0, I’m saying what am I going to do?
“Taylor was pitching a heck of a game. But I’ve been doing this long enough, if we allowed the game to go on and they shut us down that inning, it would have given them a little momentum. They were hanging in there.”
Entering the inning, Gels and the Eagles defense had limited the high-powered Falcons to just two hits.
Massie scored its final two runs in the sixth courtesy of an Eaton error and pair of doubles.
Neanen said she still felt like her team had a chance, but Florea was just too good on this day.
“Obviously, we see good pitchers in our league, but they don’t throw hard and have good spin. I think she threw extremely well. Hats off to her for even making Annika and Becca struggle a little bit. We need to see it more.”
Despite the loss, Neanen expects to be back and give it try for a third straight season.
“My dad (assistant coach Ron Neanen) and I always say ‘if you keep knocking on a door it will open’ so we’ll just keep knocking,” she said. “Eventually it has to open. We work too hard for it not to.”
Eaton, which finished the season 15-6, will lose leadoff hitter and third baseman Bailee Worley to graduation. The rest of the team will return.
“She has done an outstanding job,” Neanen said of Worley. “Being the lone senior she is setting a high example. She never missed a fall workout. She never missed speed and weights. It paid off. This year was probably her best defensive year. It means a lot to the program and me. She works really hard.”
Just like a year ago, Neanen said she expects for her team to compete for a district title again.
“We’ll be back. I expect to be back,” she said. “We have a great program right now. We just need to be better. We need to be elite.”
Eaton defeated Tippecanoe in the district semifinal 6-3 on Tuesday, May 15 at Dixie. The Eagles led 3-0 until the bottom of the sixth, when the Red Devils rallied to tie the game. The Eagles responded with three runs in the top of the seventh to get the win.
(Editor’s note: Some information in this story courtesy of the Wilmington News Journal)
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH