GERMANTOWN — When Maggie Neanen took over the Eaton softball program last spring one of her goals was to turn the program into a winner.
The previous five years (2010-2014) before she took over, the program had won less than 20 games.
In her first season, the Eagles won eight games, including a game in the sectional tournament.
This season, Eaton more than doubled that win total and reached the sectional final, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by an Eaton team since 2004.
But getting past the sectional final though will have to wait another year as the No. 4 seeded Eagles concluded one of the best seasons in school history with a 10-2 loss to No. 3 seed Monroe on Tuesday, May 17, at Valley View’s Layman Field in a Division II sectional final.
With the loss, Eaton finished the season 17-8, including winning nine of its final 11 games. Both losses were to Monroe.
Neanen said her team’s inexperience at this level may have been one of the reasons for the loss.
“Honestly, the first two games we’ve been solid defensively. So to come out here and have five errors it’s not like us,” she said. “I think our youth and inexperience (at this level) showed tonight. It was disappointing to go out that way. It’s going to leave a bitter taste in all of our mouths. But, I’m proud of the girls for getting here.”
Things started well for the Eagles as Bailee Worley, who went 3-for-4, opened the game with a single and later scored on an RBI single by Becca Mowen to give them a 1-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long though, as Monroe responded with four runs in the bottom of the first for a 4-1 lead and never trailed again.
“I thought maybe we would settle and our jitters would be out. Honestly, being down 4-1 didn’t really bother me because I knew we could fight back,” Neanen said. “At least I knew we had a chance. Again, we’ve got to come out ready from the get-go.”
And the Eagles had their chances.
Twice they grounded into double plays when they had bases loaded, once in the third inning with the score still 4-1 and again in the fifth when they trailed 5-2. Stacia Weathington drove in the second run with a single to score Kathryn Madewell, who was a courtesy runner for pitcher Annika Gels, in the fourth.
The Eagles also had a runner thrown out at home in the fifth for the first out of the inning.
“Again, it’s happened all year. We get bases loaded and can’t move ‘em. Miscues on the bases. The double plays, I think those are probably the first times we’ve got into double plays like that. For it to happen here, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for the girls.”
From there, Monroe seized control of the game, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth for an 8-2 lead.
The Hornets added their final two runs in the sixth.
“If you would have asked me on Feb. 22, if you would have thought you were going to win 17 games and lost in the sectional finals, I probably would have laughed at you,” Neanen said wiping away tears. “Now that we’re here, it’s very heartbreaking. Twenty-five games, won 17, you can’t be mad about that.”
Eaton will graduate five seniors in all-league pitcher Meghan Puckett, shortstop Madison Couch, left fielder Jayna Lee and role players Claire Gething and Erice Heiser.
“The seniors have done a great job for the program,” Neanen said. “I was always taught ‘leave the program better than you found it’ and they certainly have. Those five will definitely be missed.”
Neanen is excited about the future of the program.
“It’s headed in the right direction,” she said. “I certainly don’t think people will just overlook Eaton anymore. I think, this year especially, we made a wake up call to everyone.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.