Road ahead for Panther softball getting tougher

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Road ahead for Panther softball getting tougher

Sophomore Maria DeVito makes the catch at third base on a little blooper hit by the Belmont batter Friday at Williams Field.

Sophomore Maria DeVito makes the catch at third base on a little blooper hit by the Belmont batter Friday at Williams Field.

Sean Hastings

Sophomore Maria DeVito makes the catch at third base on a little blooper hit by the Belmont batter Friday at Williams Field.

Sean Hastings

Sean Hastings

Sophomore Maria DeVito makes the catch at third base on a little blooper hit by the Belmont batter Friday at Williams Field.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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A 5-1 record is a great start, but it is still early in the season and Eastern’s schedule coming up is against teams that also have had good starts to their seasons.

The Panthers have played well in all aspects to open their season. From the pitching to the hitting, it’s been strong. Six hitters have batting averages over .300 and junior pitchers Jessica Wireman and Michelle Rogers have sub 3.00 earned run averages.

Four of Eastern’s wins are against Tennessee State and Southeast Missouri, which have a combined 1-11 record. The fifth win is against 3-3 Belmont.

Take nothing away from the Panthers. They have played well, made the right plays, and have done enough to win those games. And that has to continue, because at the end of the day softball is softball, the games might just get harder.

Eastern has found success in its first five wins, and it has been the little things that have paid off, sophomore Maria DeVito said. Stealing bases, strong in the field, timely hits.

She said it is fun and encouraging that everyone on the team has the same mindset of knowing that the little things are important and is ready to play their best softball because of it.

What’s working for Eastern?

Sophomore Kayla Bear and junior Taylor Monahan have been catchers and pitcher’s nightmares stealing 46 bases on 48 attempts. Bear is 25-25 on steals.

To make things tougher for opposing teams, the duo bat one and two to start off the Panthers’ lineup and are hitting .333 and .351, respectively and keep finding themselves on base…and stealing bases.

And Bear is loving it.

“I get excited knowing coach has faith in me to get to the next base,” Bear said. “It’s nice to know where my strengths are and that I take advantage of the speed I have. Knowing the batters behind me, I feel that I give them more confidence and drive to hit the back and score me especially when I’m in scoring position.”

Bear’s 25 stolen bases is six more than what she finished 2016 with and credits her higher aggressiveness and better jumps for it, as well as Coach Kim Schuette giving her the steal sign more often.

That is what is great for the Panthers having big-time run producers right behind Bear and Monahan.

Freshman Haley Mitchell has 24 RBIs and senior Amber Toenyes leads the team with 25 RBIs. Bear has crossed the plate 32 times and Monahan has trotted across 18.

“It’s extremely important for them to come through and get on base not only for the purpose of RBIs, but just to get the whole offense jumpstarted,” Toenyes said. “When you see others getting on it makes you want to push that much more.”

And that run scoring keeps things lighter on Rogers and Wireman.

To go off of Mitchell’s success as a freshman; all of Eastern’s new starters are making key impacts that have helped win games. Sophomore DeVito is one of those players.

DeVito rarely saw action as a freshman, but as a sophomore has started 23 games and has appeared in 28 game and is batting .300 with an on-base-percentage of .432.

“It has been encouraging to know that the coaching staff feels that I can benefit to this team,” DeVito said. “I’ve worked really hard to improve my strengths and weaknesses in order for me to be a leader and overall better player for this team.”

And what pulls everything together is the pitching. It has seen its fair share of questionable starts and low points, but have kept those low points at a minimum.

Wireman and Rogers have a combined 18-15 record, both with nine wins this season.

Both pitchers have given Eastern a chance in every game, and even when the starter does not have her best stuff, the other comes in and cleans up the mess.

Eastern will continue its road trip with four games this weekend: Two games against 3-3 Morehead State Saturday and 3-2 Eastern Kentucky Sunday.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]