EATON — It was a fitting end to a regular season that has has been one of the best in Eaton softball history.
The Eagles sent their five seniors out in style with a stunning come-from-behind, 10-7, win over visiting Monroe on Friday, May 6.
It was the first win over Monroe in their four years for the seniors, and it lifted Eaton’s record to 15-7 overall and 8-4 in the Southwestern Buckeye League’s Southwestern Division, which was good enough to finish in a third place tie with Brookville. Monroe finished second at 9-3, with its other two losses to league champion Franklin. The Wildcats finished league play at 11-1 with its lone loss coming to Eaton, a 5-0 decision in April.
“I’m so proud. I’m proud of the seniors. I’m proud of the juniors, the sophomores, the freshmen,” Eaton coach Maggie Neanen said. “Again, like I was with Franklin, I’m on Cloud Nine. I’m speechless. They made me speechless.”
The emotion of the pregame ceremony to honor seniors Meghan Puckett, Madison Couch, Jayna Lee, Claire Gething and Erica Heiser seemed to have an effect on the Eagles early as they fell behind 7-1 after two innings, and it had Neanen concerned.
“Honestly, I thought we were the old Eaton teams. I thought we would fold. I thought we were playing like Monroe expected us to play, making the errors, not doing the job on the mound, looking at strikes go by,” Neanen said. “I was pretty worried once we were down.”
Monroe scored twice in the first and added five more in the second.
In the first, the Hornets took advantage of Puckett not being able to find the strike zone as she walked the first two batters and hit another with a pitch. The was followed by a bloop single just over shortstop for a 1-0 lead. The second run scored on a ground out to the next batter.
“In the first inning I think they got under her skin a little bit,” Neanen said of Puckett. “Then when they scored seven she really started to struggle. I could see it on her face. I talked to her. She had tears in her eyes. I said, ‘you’re a senior, you’ve done it before just relax and play ball and trust your defense.”
Eaton responded with a run of its own in the first. After back-to-back strike outs to begin the inning, Puckett lined a single to center. Becca Mowen followed with a line drive single to left and Annika Gels followed with a single to right to score Kathryn Madewell, who was a courtesy runner for Puckett.
In the second, Monroe looked to put the game away taking advantage of three Eaton errors in sending nine batters to the plate.
A three-run homer by Faith Hensley was the highlight of the inning and gave the Hornets a 5-1 lead.
“It was pretty quiet. Not a lot of people talking (in the dugout). Honestly, our attitudes got worse. We started yelling at each other, pointing fingers.” Neanen said. “I brought them in and said ‘hey, we’ve got to do our job. We’ve got to let the defense play. We know how to hit. We know how to play. We’re 14-7 for a reason.’ And then we just started chipping away.”
Eaton then settled down and began to chip away at Monroe’s lead as Puckett began finding her groove. She didn’t allow a hit after the third inning.
Eaton chipped away at the lead and Puckett started the rally. She drew a walk to lead off the third. Mowen followed with a single to left. Gels had a sacrifice bunt to advance Madewell, who was running for Puckett, to third and Mowen to second. A groundout by Madison Couch scored Madewell to make it 7-2.
Eaton cut the lead to 7-5 in the fourth.
Gething reached on an error then Emily Dungan doubled to right center for her second hit of the game. But after a strikeout and ground out to the pitcher, Puckett lined a single off the pitcher, which scored Gething to make it 7-3. Mowen followed with a double to right center, her third hit of the game, scoring both Dungan and Madewell, who was running for Puckett.
Eaton cut the lead to one in the fifth and had chance to tie, but had a runner thrown out at home to end the inning.
Couch started the inning with a double to left and that was followed by a double from Lee, scoring Couch to make it 7-6. After the next two batters were retired, Bailee Worley singled to center, but Ashlynn Black, who was pinch running for Lee, was thrown out at home on a perfect throw from the Hornets’ Ashley McNabb, leaving the visitors with a one-run lead.
“I thought maybe I killed it (momentum) when I sent Ashlynn,” Neanen said. “My gut said ‘what would my dad do?’ He’s always taught me go big or go home. Naturally, I went big. I thought I killed the momentum. It was good throw on her part.”
After Monroe went down in order in the sixth, the Eagles rallied to take the lead.
Stacia Weathington opened the inning with a walk and Puckett singled for her third hit of the game. Mowen was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Weathington scored on a wild pitch to tie the game. Gels then walked to reload the bases. With Couch at the plate, Madewell scored on another wild pitch to give Eaton an 8-7 lead. Couch then flew out to deep center to score Mowen and push Eaton’s lead to 9-7. Gething closed out the scoring with a single to right to score Gels.
“I’m very proud of the girls. Hard work has paid off,” Neanen said. “Hard work the seniors have put in, not only the last four years, but especially this year. Our seniors really stepped up in the offseason. Every senior dreams of this day. It was a perfect senior day.”
“Words can’t describe how proud we are of the girls. The hard work and no days off besides Sunday’s have really paid off. We came to play today after of course the second inning. Old Eaton softball would have folded and given up, not this Eaton softball team, we fought back and proved we are a good team,” Neanen said. “What a great way for our seniors to go out on, leave the program better than you found it.”
The previous night, Eaton beat Oakwood 11-2.
The Eagles are scheduled to begin tournament play on Thursday, May 12, hosting Carroll.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH