The future still bright for Mathews’ softball

How’s this for going out on a limb? The Mathews Mustangs softball team will have a good chance of advancing to the Division IV regional level in the 2014 season.

I’m really taking a chance there. That’s like saying the Browns aren’t going to win the Super Bowl and Ohio State President Gordon Gee will say something stupid in the next year.

The Mustangs’ second straight attempt at qualifying for the state tournament fell short Saturday in Kent with a 3-0 loss to the Colonel Crawford Eagles. There were plenty of tears after the final out was recorded on a line drive to deep right field by Maddi Grimes.

The tears barely had time to dry when it was time to ponder the future. The Mustangs do lose five seniors – Jessica Marsico, Tabby Granelly, Halle Oatridge, Hollie Shreves and Jacki Rhine – but it’s the returning talent that has to excite coach Jim Nicula.

“We have tremendous depth,” Nicula said shortly after the dust settled Saturday. “We have a strong junior varsity program, too. You don’t have many Division IV junior varsity programs. Those kids are playing all Division I and II schools. I think we only lost three junior varsity games this season.

“With (pitcher) Cheyenne (Eggens) coming back – and we have a tremendous eighth-grade pitcher coming up as well – the cupboard is well-stocked for next year. We expect to be back here next year absolutely without a doubt.”

Eggens, a hard-throwing sophomore, will give the Mustangs a ton of hope the next two seasons. There were times during the regular season when she wasn’t as dominant as she was as a freshman, but she turned it up a notch come tournament time.

The good ones always play better when something is on the line. Eggens has that ability to bring her ‘A’ game to the field every time there’s a lose-or-you’re-out scenario.

Eggens took the loss to the Eagles in stride. While the sting was still hurting, she realized that it wouldn’t last long.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Eggens said. “We’re just going to have to realize what happened and work two times harder next year to get back.”

Eggens commands a leadership role simply because of the position she plays. If you think a productive quarterback is invaluable in football, then you must know how important a dominant pitcher is in fastpitch softball. Just ask Champion Golden Flashes coach Cheryl Weaver, who rode pitcher Lindsay Swipas to consecutive Division III state championships in 2011 and 2012.

Eggens’ leadership qualities undoubtedly grew exponentially this season from what she saw of the seniors. Part of leadership is handing it down to the next player so the winning tradition can continue uninterrupted.

“We have several sophomores and a freshman out here, and everything they learn from the seniors is invaluable,” Nicula said. “They’ll carry that for years, and they’re going to pass that down to the kids that come after them as well.”

That doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to the seniors.

“I’m really going to miss our seniors,” Eggens said. “They are probably the best mentors we ever could have possibly had. They were there for us from the beginning. If we ever had a problem, they helped us. If we ever had a question, they answered it.”

That’s more than teamwork. It’s called family.