Let the Bats Fly

Eastern Softball has been REALLY good in 2024. Riding hot bats, incredible rallies and a pitching duo that can be compared to that of the Phillies, your Eagles are in the midst of what’s all but certain to be the most successful season in program history. Off to a 20-3 start at the time of this writing, the Eagle’s have jumped from barely making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons to being atop of the MAC Commonwealth standings midway through April.

Headlining this electric group is first year pitcher Danika Barthol, who is putting up numbers that will make even the best of hitters quiver. With a 9-1 record, she has only given up five earned runs all season, which is the least among qualified pitchers in the Commonwealth. She also leads the conference with 81 strikeouts. This dominance has led to four MAC Commonwealth Pitcher of the Week honors, as well as to her being the only pitcher in Region V to be on the watchlist for the National Fastpitch Softball Association’s (NFSA) Pitcher of the Year award.

“Danika is doing a wonderful job in the circle!” said sophomore outfielder Kellie O’Brien. “There’s no debate that her pitching is phenomenal and is a big part of [our] success, and the fact that she’s a freshman makes it even more impressive and exciting for the years to come.”

Barthol isn’t the only freshman performing well, as outfielder Ainsley O’Donnell has come out swinging .360 in her first year. On the upperclassmen side, junior utility player Jania Long has played well on both sides of the ball, slugging three home runs while boasting a 6-1 pitching record. Sophomore infielders Sydney Ostolaza and Alyssa Binczac, as well as junior first baseman Tori Hook, are each having career years at the plate, as they are all hitting above .345, with Ostalaza winning a MAC Commonwealth Player of the Week award as well.

This talent is what led the Eagles to be picked to finish second in the conference preseason coaches poll. Yet, somehow, they’ve managed to exceed those expectations. They began by going 6-2 during spring break, which is the best they’ve played in any spring break since 2011. Once they returned, the winning continued with convincing victories, including outscoring Widener 20-0 to begin a four game shutout streak in mid-March. 

The true statements, however, came against the two teams predicted to finish atop of the conference. Going to York to face the defending conference champions, the Eagles came away with a crucial conference win after a complete game by Barthol. Though they lost the second game, their confidence continued to soar thanks to a pair of walk offs against Messiah.. In the second game, the Eagles came back from a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the 7th with clutch baserunning, capped off by a walk off two run double by Hook.

I recently got the chance to speak to Hook about the team’s success, particularly in the Messiah victories, and she shared her excitement about the direction the team is taking.

“I feel, especially during the Messiah game, that we really came together to support each other, and I think that’s really helping us do better,” Hook said. “We’re all putting in the work. We have been grinding the whole entire year since the fall. We go into the cages in the off season at 8:00 at night and just hit and hit. We want to win, we really want to win.”

This season, thanks to the shrinkage of the conference tournament fields, the location of each conference tournament game will be determined by whoever holds the higher seed. Should the Eagles, who currently hold the number one spot in the Commonwealth, continue dominating in conference play, the road to the conference championship will run through Eagle Road and the tremendous support of the Eastern faithful.

“I think we can beat any team,” said Hook. “We’re not making many errors, and [our] pitching is phenomenal.”

“We all knew from the fall that we have the capability to do amazing things and beat the hard competitors in our conference,” said O’Brien. “However, we knew that we had to come into every game with our best stuff. Seeing all of these wins play out is such a joy because we are witnessing our hard work coming to life”

At the time of this publication, the Eagles have three doubleheaders left in the regular season. They will host conference foes Albright and Stevenson each of the next two Saturdays (April 20 & 27) at 1 p.m., as well as travel to DeSales to face a very good Bulldogs squad on April 24 at 5 p.m. The MAC Commonwealth Tournament will take place from May 2-4. For more information on the schedule and tournament, visit goeasterneagles.com, as well as gomacsports.com.

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