CLAYTON — At the start of the season, Eaton’s softball team had little in the way of varsity experience returning.
Coming off three straight district final appearances and missing last season due to COVID-19, that left the Eagles with just two returning starters and only three players with significant experience.
Coach Maggie Neanen was left with a lot of uncertainty about the season.
The Eagles put to rest any lingering doubts about how the season would go early on their way to a runner-up finish in the SWBL and a fourth-straight district final appearance.
Eaton’s season, though, ended where the last three have — with a loss in the Division II district finals.
Eaton finished the year 19-11 overall and 10-2 in the SWBL Southwestern Division.
The Eagles led 3-1 after one inning against state-ranked Springfield Shawnee and were up 4-1 heading into the bottom of the third, but the Eagles faded as the Braves’ bats came alive and rallied for a 13-4 win on Friday, May 21, at Northmont High School.
Eaton had five hits after three innings, but managed just three more hits — all in the seventh inning — the remainder of the game.
“Coming out and getting that 3-0 lead, I really felt good about it,” Neanen said. “I was proud we didn’t go down without a fight. You know, not having a season last year, I wasn’t sure where we were going to be. I’m very proud of our team. We set five new [team] school records. That’s great. I’m very, very proud of them.”
Senior Alexis Miller was 3-for-4 in her final game and reached 100 careers hits with a single in the seventh. Senior Carsyn Lammers was 2-for-3 and senior Claire Sorrell added a double and drove in two runs. Senior Braily Ward added a hit in her final at-bat and junior Anna Kramer delivered the Eagles only other hit.
Senior Erika Wilkinson pitched six innings allowing just four earned runs.
“Let’s face it, after Annika [Gels] and Becca [Mowen] left, people doubted us,” Neanen said of her pitching and catching duo who started every game from 2016-2019, along with 2019 graduates Emily Dungan and Alysa Sorrell and 2020 graduates Bailey Shepherd, Rilee Worley and Ashley Early. “They thought it was a rebuilding year, even last year, and to get here, means a lot. Honestly, it does. I mean I’ll never get tired of coming to districts, don’t get me wrong, but it is very frustrating [to lose again]. I want to win.”
To move on to the district finals against Springfield Shawnee, the Eagles had to get past SWBL opponent Brookville, which Eaton did by a 7-2 score in the district semifinals on Tuesday, May 18.
Brookville previously defeated the Eagles during the regular season 5-0 at Eaton and two days later trailed 9-5 at home before rallying with six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to secure an 11-9 victory. This was Eaton’s first win over the Blue Devils since 2016.
The Lady Devils started their ace pitcher, Ashley Lenser, but Eaton’s first hitter, junior Allison Mowen, belted a triple to deep right field. Mowen scored on a ground out by Lammers to give Eaton an early 1-0 lead.
Brookville got a leadoff single by Kristin Gardner in the bottom of the first inning, who then stole second and advanced to third on a ground out; however, she was left stranded on base, and that set the tone for the game.
“Knocking Lindner off was huge for us,” Neanen said. “I think at that point, our girls knew we’ve got the game and defensively that’s the best game I’ve ever seen us play. What a time to do it.”
Eaton got four more runs in the top of the third inning to take a 5-0 lead. Sophomore Kendall Miller led off and reached first on an error. Mowen singled to right and Wilkinson also singled to right to load the bases.
Lammers belted a two RBI double to deep left field at the base of the fence to score Miller and Mowen. That hit resulted in Lenser, the SWBL Southwestern Division Pitcher of the Year, getting lifted from the mound with Gardner coming in to pitch in relief.
With one out, Alexis Miller hit a ball to deep right that Brookville’s right fielder dropped trying to make an over the shoulder catch. That enabled Wilkinson and Lammers to score to put Eaton up 5-0.
Eaton added two insurance runs in the top of the fifth inning. Wilkinson singled to left, and with two outs, Alexis Miller drew a walk. Sorrell followed with a double to bring both runners home as the Lady Eagles took a 7-1 lead.
Mowen led Eaton at the plate, finishing 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Wilkinson went 2-for-4 with two runs; Lammers went 1-for-4 with one run and three RBIs, and Sorrell went 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
Wilkinson pitched all seven innings, giving up 10 hits with two earned runs while striking out two.
Editor’s Note: The Brookville Star’s Ron Nunnari contributed to this story.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr