Many teams that embark on a state tournament run and then lose a number of key players the next year often experience a letdown.
So far, the Eastwood softball team is bucking that trend, but the tournament is a few weeks away yet.
After finishing 29-4 and advancing to the Division III state semifinals last year, Eastwood said goodbye to a number of starters, notably pitcher Whitney Foster, who went 24-4 with a save, a 1.71 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 176 innings and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. Eastwood also graduated the Northern Buckeye Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in Alena Gabel.
But so far this year, the Eagles haven’t missed a beat, starting the season 12-0 overall and 3-0 in the NBC.
|Eastwood sophomore shortstop Mackenzie Albright, then a freshman, slides under a tag in the Eagles Division III state qualifying regional final tournament win over Sherwood Fairview at Liberty Center last year. (Press file photo by Scott Grau)|
“Obviously, I’m real happy about where we are,” said coach Joe Wyant. “We’re doing better than we thought with all the new personnel we have this year. We’ve had a lot of carryover from the nice run we had last year and we’re playing well because of (that). They expect to win, and when everybody tells them they can’t win because they lost so many players, that motivates them to work harder.”
In the circle, Sam Shirling has filled the void left by Foster, going 8-0 with a 0.75 ERA. In 47 innings, she has 65 strikeouts and walked just two batters. That’s right, two batters, putting her higher than a 32:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
“Sam’s done a really good job being a full time varsity player,” Wyant said. “She did a nice job last year in some spot starts and she’s stepped in and gotten better and she’s done a great job for us.”
Sophomore shortstop Mackenzie Albright heads up the lineup with four-year starting third baseman Cassidy Rolf hitting in the two-hole. Rolf, who is set to play softball at Owens Community College next year, is the team’s top hitter, leading the way with a .658 average, three home runs, 19 RBIs and 21 runs scored.
“She’s been our third baseman for all four years and she’s batted third in our lineup for the past four years,” said Wyant, who is also Eastwood’s wrestling coach. “She’s a competitor, she’s hard-nosed, she plays tough, and she wants to win. She’s developed into a good very good infielder. She’s always been a great hitter but I think her defense and the mental part of her game have improved.”
Wyant credits Rolf with serving as the team leader, a role previously filled by Foster.
“She’s done a good job of getting the girls going,” Wyant said.
Second baseman Krista Jennings is hitting .524 with two home runs, 14 RBIs and 21 runs and No. 5 hitter Morgan Getz, who plays first base, has a .457 average to go with 13 RBIs and 16 runs.
Catcher Anna Rahrig bats cleanup and provides consistent pop in the lineup and the No. 6-8 hitters are left fielder Marissa Tudor, right fielder Michaela Bunge and Shirling. The final spot in the batting order is usually occupied by three players — center fielder Caitlin Clay or designated players Justina Casiano and Maddie Fix. Junior Riley Patterson serves as the team’s top relief pitcher, having gone 4-0 this season.
Wyant credits the girls with staying focused and working hard during the offseason instead of resting on their laurels.
“I think that every girl I have, out of 12, all but maybe one played summer team or a travel team,” he said. “They all want to get better. Everyone could’ve been satisfied; they want to prove to everybody they’re as good as last year’s team.”
Wyant, who is in his seventh season coaching the softball team, was known to many in the area for his success coaching wrestling at Lakota before coming to Eastwood. During his 26 years coaching the Raiders (six as head coach, 20 as an assistant), the team won nine Suburban Lakes League titles and finished second three times. He actually was the head coach of three different sports at once during a five-year period while coaching at his alma mater. Wyant is currently in his fifth year heading up the Eagles’ wrestling program and is also an assistant coach with the football team.