EATON — Coming off an emotional 13-inning loss the night before, Eaton softball coach Maggie Neanen wasn’t sure what to expect from her youthful team when they faced off with league-leading Franklin — a team that just beat them 8-0 last week.
What she got was quite possibly a program-defining win over the previously unbeaten Wildcats — a team the senior class had never beaten.
The Eagles, behind a dominating pitching performance from freshman Annika Gels and solid defense, stunned visiting Franklin, 5-0 on Tuesday, April 19.
The win also kept the Eagles’ hopes alive for a league title.
Franklin was coming off an emotional league win over Monroe the previous night and was looking to take control of the league race. Now, the Wildcats are 5-1 in the SWBL and 9-3 overall and lead Brookville (4-1) by a half game for the top spot in the league. Monroe is lurking in third at 5-2, with both losses coming to Franklin.
Eaton (8-5, 4-3 SWBL Southwestern Division), which started five freshmen, will most likely need to win out plus get help from other teams if they are to catch Franklin.
“I tell them all the time, if we sweep and take care of the rest we will have a chance at the league,” she said.
But for now, Neanen and her team are happy with the win and are looking forward to building their momentum.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” Neanen said after the game. “I couldn’t be happier with Annika with the way she threw on the mound. A couple of our freshmen hitters came up and had big hits. Senior Jayna Lee came up with a huge, clutch hit. Overall, I was very pleased.”
Eaton got on the board in the second after freshman Becca Mowen led the inning off with a single. She went to second on a passed ball and eventually scored.
The game remained tight, with Eaton working out of a couple of jams defensively, until the bottom of the sixth.
Freshman Emily Dungan singled and senior Madison Couch walked. Senior Meghan Puckett followed with an infield single to load the bases. Mowen then delivered a single to score Dungan for a 2-0 lead.
After Gels reached base to make it 3-0, Lee delivered a single to right to score two runs and give the Eagles a 5-0 lead.
Franklin had a baserunner reach in the seventh, but Gels, who allowed just three hits on the night, closed the door with a strike out to end the game. It was her fourth strike out against the high-powered Wildcats, who were shutout for the first time this season.
Mowen finished the game 2-for-3, scoring twice and driving in a run. Gels was 2-for-3 with an RBI. Puckett and Lee each went 2-for-3.
If Neanen was concerned about her team’s mental toughness, they gave her a reason to not be.
“Of course, as a coach I want it to happen,” Neanen said of bouncing back from a tough loss. “But I had no idea it would be like this, especially going 13 innings. I didn’t know where our kids’ heads were. I knew Puckett was tired — that’s why we threw Annika. I thought they would be down.”
Neanen said she had a good feeling after her team took the lead in the second.
“When we scored in the second inning it was like a whole new team. I’m very proud of them,” she said. “I think it shows how hard of workers we have. Our kids stepped up. It’s the best I’ve ever seen our defense play. They had runners on third twice and the fact that we held them right there was a great job. It shows that we can compete with anybody in this league.”
After scoring the first two runs in the seventh, Neanen felt like it was time her team was about to get a signature win.
“When we got the next two to make it 3-0 I knew right then we could put them away,” she said. “They were down. I could see it in their faces. I thought they were down from the third inning on.”
On Monday, Eaton dropped a 3-2 decision at Brookville. Puckett pitched all 13 innings, giving up just eight hits and one earned run.
The Blue Devils took a 2-0 lead after the first and the scored remained that way until Eaton pushed two runs across the plate in the top of the seventh to force extra-innings.
“Tonight’s game was a tough battle, we held Brookville for 12 innings and I couldn’t be more proud of that. Meghan Puckett threw a fantastic game, to be able to go 13 innings and still bring the heat is awesome,” Neanen said. “Early errors in the first is what cost us the game, our hitting will keep us in things but we can’t open up a game with an error and the past five games we have. Errors cost games. I am extremely proud of Becca Mowen and Jayna Lee coming up with clutch hits in the top of the 7th to even get us into extras. I just wish it would have gone our way.”
Mowen finished the game going 2-for-5 with a pair of triples and an RBI and Lee was 1-for-3 and drove in the tying run in the seventh.
Eaton is scheduled to host Carlisle on Friday and entertain Twin Valley South on Saturday for a doubleheader. The first game is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. On Monday, they are set to visit Valley View and will host Monroe on Tuesday.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH