Eastwood’s Diana Bushman steps on home plate after hitting a home run against Lake. The Eagles started 14-0 but have dropped two NBC games since, both by one run.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
PEMBERVILLE — There are no breaks in the Eastwood softball team’s batting order, and the Eagles accentuate the balanced offense with crafty pitching and sound defense.
Eastwood jumped out to a perfect 14-0 start this season with all three facets of the game humming along. Eight batters have batting averages above .300, while four are hitting above .400.
Senior pitcher Whitney Foster has backed up the potent offense with a 1.04 ERA. Eastwood’s defense also is averaging less than two errors per game.
“We started off really well because of solid pitching, overall balanced hitting, and solid defense, too,” Eastwood coach Joe Wyant said.
Senior center fielder Ally Gabel ranks second on the team with a .432 batting average.
“You never know when we are going to score,” Gabel said. “We have the opportunity to score every inning and that helps.”
Foster said knowing her offense can strike at any moment takes pressure off of her.
“You never know who will step up, one through nine,” Foster said. “Most teams think the bottom of the order can’t hit the ball. But that's not the way with ours. Even the girls on the bench can hit. Whenever someone goes up to bat, we expect to get a hit.”
The Eagles won the Northern Buckeye Conference title last season, and Foster credits the offense for her being named the co-pitcher of the year. She also earned all-district first team honors and finished with a 0.95 ERA.
Foster (11-2) has struck out 73 batters in 81 innings this season.
“I’m going to make mistakes and let up some hits and some runs,” Foster said. “But I know we can hit and come through. That is key.”
Freshman shortstop MacKenzie Albright has opened some eyes with a team-high .440 average and nine RBIs. Catcher Anna Rahrig, a junior, is tied for second at .432 with 10 RBIs.
Junior third baseman Cassidy Rolf, hitting .404, leads the team with 19 RBIs. She has three home runs.
Right fielder Emily Helm has a .383 average with nine RBIs.
First baseman Diana Bushman is hitting .341 with 10 RBIs and leads the team with seven stolen bases.
Second baseman Jessica Young has a .326 average with eight RBIs.
Foster has helped her own cause with a .321 average and 14 RBIs.
“We’ve had solid hitting,” Wyant said.
The sixth-year coach also said the left side of his infield and his outfield have been strong.
“MacKenzie Albright has been very solid,” Wyant said. “She has played really well in the field and batted really well.”
Rolf was all-district first team as a sophomore at third base and is a three-year starter.
Gabel was also all-district as a center fielder. Wyant called Helm his best defender.
“We have her in right field because a lot of balls are hit there,” he said.
Eastwood opened NBC play with a 3-0 record but have since lost two conference games — each by one run. They fell 2-1 to Lake and 4-3 to Elmwood.
Eastwood (14-2) has wins over preseason favorite Otsego and Woodmore. But the Eagles’ most impressive victories so far came at the Showcase Classic Tournament in Akron.
Eastwood went 4-0. The Eagles beat Medina, a Division I state semifinalist last year, Akron Hoban, a D-II regional finalist, and Akron Ellet.
“To be 14-0 was no cakewalk. We beat some very good teams,” Wyant said.
Gabel said the tournament title was a true team effort.
“The order is solid all the way through,” Gabel said. “We’re good at getting key hits and making key plays. We faced some really good teams. Between pitching and making key plays on defense, we’ve gained momentum and we have confidence.”
The performance of Foster in the circle has been crucial.
“You are no better than your pitcher. They have to keep you competitive,” Wyant said.
Foster features an above average fastball with a curveball and a drop-curve. She was All-Ohio second team last season despite coming off a shoulder injury she suffered as a sophomore. She tore her labrum while playing volleyball.
“It still limits my inside pitches,” she said.
Although she no longer can physically throw a screwball, she still has good control of her other pitches.
“I can change level high and low and move inside and outside,” Foster said.
Gabel said the pitcher also has stepped up as a leader.
“We always can count on her,” Gabel said. “She gives us pep talks and gets us to concentrate and work as a team.”
Eastwood has seven seven starters back this season, including five seniors that have played the last three years. Yet the Eagles were picked to finish third in the NBC.
Wyant said the predictions reflected the strength of the league. Otsego and Elmwood also had many returnees.
“It wasn’t disrespect,” Wyant said. “Our league is very good."
Foster sees it as incentive.
“It’s definitely motivation because nobody thought we would be good last year,” Foster said. “Now we have something to prove again and that pushes us.”
Wyant said the team also is motivated by a tough season-ending loss to Gibsonburg in the Division III sectional final last season.
“We had high hopes last year and we got beat early and that hurt,” he said. “We want to do better than we did last year.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.