PEMBERVILLE — The Eastwood softball team may have parted ways with several key components, but the Eagles have continued their winning ways this season.
Eastwood lost five seniors to graduation from a team that made the school's first appearance in the state semifinals last season. But the Eagles have not missed a beat, surging out to a 15-0 record.
“With us losing five starters, there was a lot of speculation if we would be very good or not,” Eagles coach Joe Wyant said. “We lost some very key pieces. But these girls believe they have something to prove and they also believe they can win.”
Eastwood finished 29-4 last year and made it farther in the tournament than any other area team in any division last year. The Eagles lost to eventual champion Bloom-Carroll in the Division III state semifinals.
Wyant lost three All-Northern Buckeye Conference players to graduation, including his No. 1 pitcher (Whitney Foster) and the league's offensive player of the year (center fielder Alena Gabel).
But senior third baseman Cassidy Rolf, who leads the team with a .608 batting average, said the returning players were confident there would not be much of a drop off this season.
“We know we can do it because we did it last year,” Rolf said. “We still have strong players and the heart and desire to win.”
Eastwood was picked to finish third in the NBC behind defending champ Elmwood and Rossford. The Eagles already defeated Rossford 12-2.
“I think people thought we might not be very good because of who we lost,” Wyant said. “We are surprising them because of that.”
Eastwood (3-0 NBC) also has big nonleague wins over Huron, Akron Hoban, and Wauseon. The Eagles have a 68-9 record — an .883 winning percentage — since the start of the 2012 season.
Senior pitcher Sam Shirling has been watching that success while patiently waiting in the wings. She was 5-0 record with a 1.74 ERA last year.
But with the spotlight now focused directly on Shirling in the circle, she has excelled. She is 10-0 with a 0.74 ERA.
“I had to wait my turn,” Shirling said. “I watched and learned through [Foster]. I worked really hard in the off season to get where I am now, so I'd be ready when my turn came to step in and do my best.”
In 57 innings, Shirling has struck out 72 batters and given up just six earned runs.
“We did lose a huge part of our team. I know no one expected this,” Shirling said. “But we are determined to show the program is not done. We don't want to lose. We want to keep winning and be just as good.”
Wyant said Shirling wasn't overpowering in previous seasons.
“But she is one of the hardest worker I've seen in the weight room,” Wyant said. “She is the strongest girl at Eastwood. She gained speed from that strength. She has developed into a solid pitcher. She waited her turn and she has stepped in and done really good.”
While Shirling has been opening some eyes as a surprise newcomer on the mound, Rolf is among a group of four returning starters with a proven track record.
Sophomore shortstop Mackenzie Albright and senior catcher Anna Rahrig earned All-NBC second-team honors along with Rolf.
Albright, who started as a freshman, leads the team with five stolen bases. She also has a .385 batting average with 13 RBIs.
Wyant, who has a 271-137 record in 15 years, said Albright might be the best shortstop he has ever had. A standout in basketball and volleyball, he said Albright has athleticism and good speed.
Rahrig is carrying a .377 average with 10 runs scored and nine RBIs. The clean-up hitter also is a strong defensive catcher, Wyant said.
Senior second baseman Krista Jennings, the team's No. 9 hitter last year, is batting second. Jennings has scored a team-high 29 runs and has a .500 batting average with two home runs, and 19 RBIs.
Some others who have stepped into the lineup and maintained the success are senior left field Marissa Tudor, senior right fielder Michaela Bunge, and junior first baseman Morgan Getz.
“They have really stepped up. Those four have made some big strides,” he said.
Getz has driven in 17 runs and has scored 18 to go along with a .438 average. Tudor is batting .373 with 16 runs scored and 21 RBIs. Bunge has 14 RBIs and a .326 average. Junior center fielder Caitlyn Clay completes the lineup.
“We all wanted to step up and keep it going,” Shirling said. “We were determined to not let it drop.”
Rolf leads home runs (3), RBIs (23) and runs scored (29).
Rolf, who will play next season at Owens Community College, already has set the school record for career home runs with 15.
“I work on my power and getting people in,” Rolf said. “But everyone bats [well]. It's exciting to know if I strike out, you have someone right behind to get on.”
Rolf credited Shirling with instilling confidence in the team.
“We know Sam can pitch and we have a solid defense and strong offense,” Rolf said. “Sam worked all summer because she knew she would start. People didn't know we had Sam. But we knew she could pitch and she would come out strong.”
Eastwood won the NBC in 2012 but finished second last year.
“We're hoping this year to come back and win league and go back to state,” Rolf said.
Wyant said he was cautiously optimistic heading into an uncertain year.
“This team has surprised me,” he said. “I knew we could be pretty good and better than most people would think.. We knew the players we had back were good. The four other starters have stepped in and picked it up.”