DENVER – Fueled by the agony of watching a state championship berth slip through its fingers last season, the East Lincoln Mustangs softball team has opened the 2022 season on a tear, clobbering opponents by an average of 10 runs per game through an unbeaten first month.
“Last year we were one game away,” head coach Roger Wilson said. “Going into the season we knew we had a lot of talent coming back, we just didn’t know how quickly it would gel.”
Wilson is in his inaugural season after serving as an assistant under Mike Freeman. The roster turnover from last year was minimal, however, but three of the four graduating seniors are now playing collegiately. Among them is pitcher Payton Baker, now at University of South Carolina-Aiken, who started 48 games on the mound dating back to her freshman year, including 16 of the 18 games in last year’s condensed season.
“She’d pitched basically every game since her freshman year and was very strong on the mound for us,” Wilson said. “We weren’t sure what we were going to get from Leah Correll, but she’s done a tremendous job for us this year.”
Correll, a junior who’s started 10 of the 11 games this season and pitched all but three innings, has been nothing short of spectacular taking the reins. She sports a perfect 10-0 record on the mound, including five shutouts, with a sparkling 0.68 earned-run average and 108 strikeouts in 62 innings pitched.
“It’s been a big change from sitting the bench most nights to pitching almost every game this season,” Correll said. “There’s a little pressure replacing Payton, but I have a lot of support from everyone and that’s been empowering.”
Correll has developed a nice rapport with junior catcher Betsy Eatmon, who’s been given more responsibility calling pitches this season.
“Heavy speed,” Eatmon said when describing the combination of Correll’s fastball and curveball. “Payton was obviously left-handed so it was a little different the way her pitches moved. She pitched more to contact while Leah is a power pitcher who gets more strikeouts.”
Eatmon’s impact extends well beyond her responsibilities calling the game behind the plate. She’s been the team’s best hitter, posting a scorching .667 batting average with six home runs and 25 RBIs to provide some thump in the middle of the lineup.
“Betsy is an overall team leader,” Wilson said of his catcher.
Eatmon’s big numbers with the bat are due in part to the Thomas sisters, Taliyah and Taniyah, who set the table at the top of the lineup.
“Both of those girls have tremendous speed,” Wilson said. “If they get on base, which they’ve done a lot so far this season, nine times out of 10 they’re gonna score. If they walk or hit a single, it’s basically a triple because they’re gonna steal.”
Freshman Taniyah Thomas bats leadoff and hits at a .459 clip, leading the team with nine stolen bases once she gets on. Taliyah Thomas, a senior committed to USC-Upstate, has been tearing the cover off the ball with four home runs, 16 RBIs and a .543 batting average. She’s also a perfect 7-for-7 stealing bases.
The Mustangs are 11-0 overall with a 7-0 mark in Western Foothills 3A conference play heading into an April 6 game against Hickory.