WHEELERSBURG — To pitch to Macee Eaton, or not to pitch to Macee Eaton.
That is Cardington’s question, quite frankly, to answer —and to deal with Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” from it.
As the Wheelersburg Pirates prep to play the Cardington-Lincoln Pirates in Friday’s Division III state softball semifinal, attention —and deservedly so —is on Eaton, the ‘Burg junior first baseman and three-hole hitter who has simply replaced the Pirates’ proverbial cannon with her rocket-launcher for a bat.
Whether it’s deep into the parking lot at Gene Bennett Park in Wheelersburg, or most recently out of Unioto High School’s softball field, the University of Virginia verbal commit Eaton is on a power trip — of the home run tear-type.
“I put a lot of work in during the offseason and I’m seeing the ball and focusing more on my mechanics and timing everything up. I’m hitting everything solid,” said Eaton, who has officially 19 home runs in 2022. “If I get more, I get more. But I’m focusing as much as possible on hitting everyone in and helping my team as much as I can.”
That’s not surprising coming from the five-foot nine-inch slugger, whose 2022 home run total —before this season’s state tournament inside Akron’s Firestone Stadium — stands sixth, per most home runs in an Ohio High School Athletic Association softball singular season.
The record-holder, per the OHSAA website, is Williamsburg’s Carley Wagers with 23 five years ago.
But, that was Williamsburg —and this is Wheelersburg.
Eaton amassed 14 as a sophomore, posed the same longball threat in each and every at-bat, and those Pirates played in the state semifinals as well.
So with 33 career home runs and counting, one has to wonder what Eaton would have done for her freshman act.
The world will never know, as unfortunately Eaton’s —and everybody’s —spring sports season two years ago was canceled because of the coronavirus threat.
Truth be told, she was denied a freshman season through absolutely no fault of her own —and somebody, somewhere, certainly owes her an engraved apology.
Otherwise, observers of Ohio high school softball would seriously be on an energetic, and even frenetic, home-run records watch.
Eaton answered the interview question about as well as could be expected.
“It sucked because of COVID and it bothers me that I didn’t have one season, but I still have one more year and all I can do is the best I can. Maybe I do break some records,” she said. “I’m still getting better, and maybe I do achieve those goals.”
But, that is for next spring, as the Pirates’ Friday 5:30 p.m. against Cardington-Lincoln is the here and now.
Eaton is coming off a 3-for-3 with three home runs game against West for the Region 11 championship, as the Pirates posted a 9-2 victory.
She victimized West more than once for all three of the Senators’ season losses —twice in Southern Ohio Conference Division II play, and again on Saturday at Unioto.
While West pitched to Eaton, and even around her following her home run in its game at Wheelersburg, the jury remains out on whether or not 24-4 Cardington-Lincoln likes that option.
After all, it’s an Eaton home run —or possibly Pirates behind her hitting each other in.
AndiJo Howard and Sydney Skiver, the four-spot and five-spot hitters respectively, are the immediate beneficiaries.
Wheelersburg’s runs scored tally in 2022 is 11th in OHSAA history entering the state tournament, as it has outscored the opposition 358-32 —totaling 26 more markers than it did all of last year.
These 25-1 Pirates have captured 21 consecutive wins — since their only loss, a 10-5 decision to Division I stronghold Teays Valley.
“I just go out there with an open mind. If they don’t pitch to me, I need to just keep my head up and take my base, and I know AndiJo and Sydney have my back. If they do pitch to me, I just try to make them pay,” said Eaton.
Eaton added that she does hope those Pirates pitch to her.
“I hope so. I would like for them to,” she said. “But if they don’t, then I feel like everybody else has my back.”
The two teams had an opportunity to scout one another, as they played their regional championship tilts on different days.
Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby is unsure exactly what Cardington will do as well.
“I know they were there at the West game, and they may have a strategy. They may pitch to her, and try to get her to chase a pitch that they want to see if she can hit. If runners are in scoring position and first base is open, it wouldn’t surprise me if they walked her,” she said. “But we’ve talked about this with Macee all season long. If they walk you, do something on the basepath. If they don’t, do something with the bat. Whatever they do, don’t let their decisions distract you from making a difference in the game.”
Howard’s redemption tour
For the sophomore southpaw pitcher Howard, this week — quite simply — is about redemption.
As a freshman, fatigued by arm and leg troubles by the opening weekend in June, a nervous Howard had little left physically to give —try as hard as she did.
Fairview hit her for 15 hits and 10 runs, including a tide-turning grand slam second-inning home run, as Wheelersburg would go on to narrowly lose 10-8.
So 2022 has seen Howard perform a redemption tour —which will conclude this weekend in Akron.
First and foremost, she said her nerves are much more calm —aside from the physical ailments by season’s end.
“I was extremely nervous last year as a freshman for this game. This year, I am a lot more confident in not only myself, but my teammates. I know they have my back,” said Howard.
It helps Howard’s health is much better this time around, as freshman Kaylynn Carter has spelled her in some circle outings —and the Pirates didn’t miss a beat.
In the postseason, Howard has handled most of the innings, as Wheelersburg has run roughshod — winning its first five tournament tilts by a whopping 67-3.
In fact, the closest outcomes are the championship games —7-0 over Ironton in the district and 9-2 over West in the regional.
The young left-hander, and her head coach, spoke to the importance of her health.
“Last year, I think I pitched every game but one. By the end, my body was just wore out. I gave everything I had until the very last pitch, but this game, I feel like I am coming in a lot healthier this year,” she said.
“For AndiJo this year, it’s been about getting healthy. She has battled some aches and pains here and there, but the warmer weather certainly helps. She has made a lot of strides,” said the coach. “And a lot of it is getting her on point with her confidence. We talk a lot about just pitching to the batter to hit, because the defense we have behind her is really good. She has pitched really well in this tournament run, and I think she will be just fine come Friday and hopefully Saturday.”
Howard wants redemption definitely, and right the proverbial wrong from a year ago.
“We’re playing a different team, but we want this more than anything,” she said. “We wanted it last year, and the fact that we lost last year, that makes us want it 10 times more.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved