At 21-1, things can't get much better for Eastwood softball.
They have a near-perfect record, are tied for first with a 9-1 mark in the Northern Buckeye Conference and have a No. 1 seed in the Division II district tournament.
The Eagles have won the majority of their games by blowouts or in convincing fashion, but they've played well in the clutch, too, most recently defeating Woodmore, 1-0, in a thriller last week that saw Sam Shirling out duel Wildcat starter Maddie Phillips. Cassidy Rolf scored the winning run on Marissa Tudor's sacrifice fly to keep Eastwood in the thick of the league race.
Currently 9-1 in the NBC, with the lone loss coming to Elmwood, the Eagles, who have four games left on the league slate, host Elmwood on Monday in a game that could determine the conference champion. Eastwood, which went 29-4 in an incredible run that saw the club win a number of close tournament games before advancing to the Division III state semifinals, was second to Elmwood in the NBC last season.
The Eagles won league titles in 2012 and '09 while the Royals have claimed the top spot in '10, '11 and '13 with Eastwood finishing second all three times. It's also a testament to Coach Joe Wyant, now in his seventh year.
While winning another NBC title is important to the Eagles, making another deep run in the postseason is matters just as much.
"I think they have a good chance to succeed after going far last year," Wyant said. "They want to go as far as they can — they're looking forward to the tournament. But right now we're taking it one game at a time."
This season, Eastwood has gotten great pitching in the circle and consistent, well-balancing hitting from its lineup.
The batting lineup is impressive. The top six hitters have an average of .375 or better, and the No. 7 hitter, RF Michaela Bunge, is hitting .308.
Rolf, a four-year starter who played third base, is hitting .542 out of the two-hole with three home runs, 28 RBIs, 10 doubles and 35 runs, good enough to put her first on the team in all five categories.
Second baseman Krista Jennings is right behind her, hitting .473 with two home runs, 23 RBIs, six doubles and 33 runs and 1B Morgan Getz is also hitting above .400 with a .412 average and one home run, 20 RBIs, six doubles and 20 runs.
The other top hitters include catcher Anna Rahrig (.394, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 5 2B), Tudor (.388, 1 HR, 27 RBI, 5 2B, 20 R), a left fielder, and the leadoff hitter, shortstop Mackenzie Albright (.375, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 8 2B, 30 R).
The final two spots in the order have been occupied by four players, Shirling, center fielder Caitlin Clay and designated players Maddie Fix and Justina Casiano.
"We've done a very good job of hitting the ball this season," said Wyant, who also serves as Eastwood's wrestling coach and an assistant on the football team. "It's been a different person each time. We feel that we have seven very solid hitters, and our eight and nine hitters can put the ball in play and have made things happen. Lately, we've been winning with the bottom of the order."
Shirling has been just as good, if not better than her opponents in the circle. In her only season as the team's ace, Shirling is 16-1 with a 1.07 ERA in 98 innings of work. She has 113 strikeouts, but probably the most remarkable statistic is her nine walks, four of which were intentional. That gives her a nearly 13:1 strikeout to walk ratio. And Riley Patterson, who will likely be the starter in the circle next season, is 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA and has 20 strikeouts in 29 innings.
"Sam's built confidence as the year went on," Wyant said. "The key is she doesn't walk anyone. That makes it hard (for opponents) to have big innings when she doesn't walk them. She's been getting about seven to eight strikeouts per game and that means (opposing hitters) are putting 14 balls in play. We've only been averaging one error per game. We're playing really solid defense behind (Shirling)."
Eastwood plays in a well-rounded softball conference, which Wyant says helps prepare them. Elmwood and Woodmore have made runs through the tournament in recent years and Lake, Genoa and Rossford have consistently been in the mix in the NBC. Lake already started the Division II tournament with a first round victory over Central Catholic out of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
"Of course there are Elmwood, and Woodmore, which both have got a good team — their offense has really improved," Wyant said. "Genoa has got some good athletes and I think they're better than their record. And I think you could say the same about Lake. I think our league is very good top to bottom."
When the Eagles competed in the Suburban Lakes League, they had to deal with Gibsonburg and Lakota, also top quality programs historically, so it’s nothing new to Wyant, who once coached at Lakota.
The final four games on the slate include the Eagle’s game on Monday against Elmwood, plus an in-progress suspended game against Woodmore that is currently tied, 1-1, and Lake and Genoa.
If Eastwood defeated Fostoria in the D-II tournament Friday, the Eagles play either Bowling Green, Maumee or Rogers on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Genoa district semifinal.