Long time coming: Ayres guides Eagles to emotional win over Marist
EAGLE POINT — Tears streamed down Megan Ayres’ face as the sun began to fade on the Eagle Point High softball field Tuesday night.
The only thing more remarkable to see was the broad smile that also lit up the senior pitcher’s face.
Ayres had just realized a dream, and there was no holding back the emotions of the moment after Eagle Point secured a 4-2 win over previously unbeaten Marist in Midwestern League action.
The win snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Spartans and gave the Eagles their first win over Marist since 2012.
“I’m just so thrilled and so incredibly happily,” said the four-year starter. “I’ve been wanting this all throughout my high school career, just to beat Marist. I’m so glad that my senior year I finally got to do it, especially at my home field.”
“It is the biggest win I have ever had in all my career,” added Ayres. “I’m just so thankful for my teammates and so thankful for everybody believing in me, especially my coaches and for everyone sitting there talking to me, it really pushed me through it.”
Ayres limited the talented Spartans (18-1, 12-1 MWL) to four hits with eight strikeouts and four walks and helped her own cause by belting a pair of doubles that resulted in run-scoring innings by the Eagles (15-4, 11-3).
“Megan had a phenomenal game,” said Marist head coach Jon Burke. “That was literally the best I’ve seen her pitch and she 100 percent deserved that win. I’m super proud of her, I’ve watched her for four years now and she was fantastic.”
A little overanxious to start with, Ayres offered up two of her walks in the first inning but got out of the jam by being on the front end of a double play after a comebacker by Marist freshman Abbey Doerr.
Her two other walks came in the second inning and left Ayres in a bind with the bases loaded thanks to a botched fielder’s choice attempt, but the EP standout buckled down to net three of her strikeouts in the frame to come out unscatched.
“I just had to tell myself to calm down, you got this and you can do it,” Ayres said of her early mantra.
“I honestly don’t think there was ever a point that I caught my breath because I was always pushing it,” she added. “But I knew I just had to dig deep and bow my neck.”
After Ayres hit a leadoff double off senior left-hander Baylee Eaton in the fourth, courtesy runner Drew Guillory moved to third on a wild pitch and Riley Shopp drew a walk. Then junior catcher Sami Thompson came up with one of her two clutch RBI singles in the game to break a scoreless tie on a low liner to charging shortstop Lauren Burke.
After Miyah Smith walked to load the bases, Mickala Morris brought a second run home on a sacrifice fly and Emma Stevens capped the three-run surge with an RBI single to left-center that eluded the diving effort of Marist’s McKenna Williams.
“There was not anything you could do there,” said coach Burke. “They were good hits and the defense tried to make good plays and sometimes the ball just rolls the other way and it doesn’t work out in your favor.”
Marist used an inning-opening error and a perfectly placed bunt by Burke, who was last year’s Class 5A player of the year, to cut its deficit in the fifth but Eagle Point provided an important answer in the bottom of the fifth when Ayres again doubled and Thompson came through with an RBI single to right field.
“She’s very capable of doing that all the time,” Eagle Point head coach John White said of Thompson. “She has her ups and downs but she’s fiery and very competitive, and today she had her competitors hat on and she was stroking the ball.”
Marist put two more runners in scoring position in the sixth but Ayres regrouped to strike out the final two batters of the inning, and knew her work was far from over in the seventh. Burke, who bats leadoff, laced a one-out home run and was followed by two deep flyball outs that sent the Eagle Point players into a frenzy.
“I knew they weren’t going to go quietly, especially those top five hitters,” said Ayres. “All those girls are amazing hitters. I’m just happy we got through it. We definitely had to work for it and I couldn’t be more happy with my teammates.”
White echoed those same sentiments afterwards.
“Something we’ve been talking to these girls about for some time is the fact that they’re as good as anybody else, they just have to believe in themselves and stay in the moment and continue to be relaxed and focused,” he said. “They were able to do that today and we put forth a special effort.”
Eaton and Doerr; Ayres and Thompson. W — Ayres (12-4). L — Eaton. 2B — M: Balderston; EP: Ayres 2. HR — M: Burke.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry