fCENTERVILLE — Eaton’s softball team was hoping to make the third time a charm.
Instead, for the third time in as many years, the Eagles came up short of their goal of winning a district championship, thus ending one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Eaton dropped a 4-0 decision to state-ranked Clinton-Massie in the Division II district final on Saturday, May 18 at Centerville High School.
It was the second season in row the Eagles bowed out of tournament play to the Falcons.
Eaton (21-4) ends the season with a school-record 21 wins, while setting numerous other records throughout the season.
“As a program to get here three straight years, after what I thought Eaton softball was when I was in high school and returning, to have this program where it is now where getting to a district is almost expected,” Eaton coach Maggie Neanen said. “It’s great. It’s fantastic.”
The goal, though, of putting a banner on the wall in the gym will have to wait another year.
“We don’t come home with a banner, but there’s definitely something to be said when you win 21 of 25 games,” Neanen said. “These girls, this team, are definitely going to go down in history (as one of) if not the best team to ever come through Eaton High School — ever. Those are hard records to beat that we’ve set. I’m definitely proud of this season we’ve had. It sucks today, but I couldn’t be more proud.”
For the second straight year, Eaton had trouble stringing together hits against Massie’s Taylor Florea. The hard-throwing right-hander limited the Eagles to just two hits, but also benefited from some solid defense behind her.
Eaton’s Ashley Earley singled in the first inning and went to second on a wild pitch. She was left stranded after a ground out and a pop out.
Eaton pitcher Annika Gels matched Florea for the first two innings, retiring the first six Falcons.
In the bottom of the third, C-M broke the scoreless tie.
Hailey Clayborn reached on an error. Alexis Hickey followed with a bunt attempt, but Eaton got the out at second. Florea followed with a double to left. A bunt single from Lindsey Carter gave Massie a 1-0 lead. An out later, Natalie Lay added another infield single to score another run.
In the top of the fourth, Gels drew a one-out walk. Becca Mowen followed with what appeared to be a ball headed for the gap in left center field, but a diving catch by Massie center fielder Kendall Anderson shut down the Eagles rally.
Massie made it a 3-0 game in the fifth.
Back-to-back singles by Florea and Carter started the inning. A sac bunt by Victoria Sivert moved the runners to second and third. Lay then hit a sac fly to center to score Florea.
In the top of the sixth, Earley drew a two-out walk. Gels then hit a hard ground ball, that appeared to be fair, down the right field line, but was ruled foul as Earley was headed to third. Gels eventually lined out to right field to end the inning.
Massie then added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning.
The first two Falcons were retired before the Falcons strung together four straight hits to make it a 4-0 game.
Eaton didn’t go quietly in the seventh.
Mowen singled to right lead off the inning. Lexi Miller then reached on an error. But a ground out, pop out and strike out ended any hopes of an Eaton comeback.
“It’s almost like nothing could fall our way,” Neanen said. “They made diving catches and things that went their way didn’t go our way. You’ve got to tip your hat to them, they made plays left and right and they’ve got a really good pitcher.”
Eaton advanced to the district final with a 6-0 win over Bellbrook on Tuesday, May 14.
Gels tossed a complete game four-hitter as Eaton topped Bellbrook for the third time this season. She only allowed one Bellbrook runner to reach second base, while striking out six.
After a scoreless first inning, Eaton responded with a four-run second.
Mowen led off the inning with her fifth home run of the season and the 29th for the team — a school record. Miller and Rilee Worley followed with singles. Carsyn Lammers flew out to center but advanced both Miller and Worley. Alysa Sorrell followed with a hard ground ball to short, where SWBL Player of the Year Kaley Clark committed a throwing error to allow both Miller and Worley to score. One out later, Emily Dungan doubled to center to score Sorrell and make it a 4-0 game.
Eaton added a pair of runs in the sixth.
Miller and Worley hit back-to-back doubles to begin the inning to make it a 5-0 game. Lammers followed with a single. Sorrell hit into a fielder’s choice to score Worley to make it 6-0.
“Kind of feels nice. We expected to win this game,” Neanan said after the game. “Obviously, we’re excited but I don’t think, like the first two years we’re like ‘oh, sweet, this feels nice.’ This year we kind of expected it. I’m happy.”
Neanen said once her team jumped on top they seamed relaxed.
“After the first inning I was a little concerned,” she said. “Again, we’ve been here but I still think we get the nerves. Once the game got going and we got those four runs, everybody started to be a little more relaxed.”
Neanen said the error was a key play in the game.
“That was huge, especially to see her make the error,” she said.
The loss to Massie ended the careers of Dungan, Gels, Mowen — all four-year starters and Sorrell, a two-year starter and three-year varsity player.
The four are part of arguably the best four-year run in Eaton softball history, according to Neanen. During their time wearing an Eaton uniform, the Eagles were 72-29, set numerous team and individual records, won three straight sectional championships, played in four sectional finals and were district runner-ups three times. The three district final appearances are the only appearances in school history.
“They were 72-29. What they’ve done for the program, their leadership, their grit, their hard work I don’t think we’ll have four players come through the program (again) like that,” Neanen said. “They’ve definitely made their senior year their best year, especially Emily and Alysa, those two stepped up. Obviously, Becca and Annika have had stellar careers. We’re never going to have players like them ever again, ever. The duo they have will be really, really missed. I wish I had them all one more year.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH