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A Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball League game between the Cougars and Hawks. From left, Hawks' Emily Wellnitz runs to first while Cougars' Julia Eyler plays first and Maddie Smith plays shortstop.
A Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball League game between the Cougars and Hawks. From left, Hawks' Emily Wellnitz runs to first while Cougars' Julia Eyler plays first and Maddie Smith plays shortstop. (Courtesy photo)

As the Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball League’s season wound down late last week, the Cougars were riding two impressive winning streaks.

They were in first place at 20-0 coming into Thursday’s final regular-season game. And they had won the Junior Division’s regular and postseason titles in each of the previous two years coming into the weekend’s postseason fray.

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By press time, their streaks had continued or broken up, and the Cougars’ fate was decided.

Despite his team’s sterling 2017-2018 record, and that he easily had the oldest team in a division where the girls varied in age from 8 through first year of college — and that 10 of 14 were back this year — coach Herb Eyler wasn’t exactly sure how they would do.

The coach wondered how the new players, two of whom were eighth-graders, would fit in with a older team which included two girls in college. And while he had drafted the four to fill positions that had come open, he wasn't sure if they could play there.

“Did I think we could win again? Yes. But was I nervous, yes,” he said.

But the league held its annual preseason tournament, and Eyler explained it gives the teams a chance to see who can do what. And he found out.

His team won its tourney games 18-0, 15-2, and 16-1.

“When we won those three games, I told my coaches that the girls were coming together and we would be the team to beat,” Eyler said.

He was still nervous though.

“Coming into the new year after losing a few girls, I wondered if the new girls would bond with the older ones,” Eyler said. “And while it’s good to have older players, they had other things on their mind besides softball.There were jobs, proms and academics. In the back of my mind I wondered if I’d have them for each game.”

He didn’t want to push his players to maintain their winning ways of the previous two years or continue a streak.

“I wanted them to focus on the next game coming up,” Eyler said. “But if they won, I’d be delighted.”

His girls opened the season by barely edging the Hawks 7-6. But after then, most of the games were blowouts. Over the next 19 games — all wins — the margin of victory was ten runs or more in 15 of the 19.

The closest anyone has come in the final score all year is five runs.

“The biggest edge I have is that every one of my girls can hit — every one,” Eyler said. “And as for fielding, I don't think there is a team that can catch the ball as well as my team can, particularly in the outfield.”

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Eyler said he’s proud of how his outfielders have played over the past three winning seasons. The coach added he often shifts girls around in the outfield depending on where the opposing team is likely to hit the ball.

However, the players are versatile enough that the shifting doesn’t affect their performance.

Eyler says that the girls know that this will be their last shot together — seven or eight of them age out next year.

“Some have ‘senior-itis’ and look for the new era coming up,” Eyler said. “Some are sad because these will be the last games they will play with the Westminster Jaycees. There are a range of emotions.”

However, Eyler said he wants them to pull hard together one last time and win their Junior Division title yet again. The way to do that is to bear down with the bat.

“Get ahead first. And for every run they score, we should score two,” Eyler said. “That way we never have to look up at them.”

And while he hasn’t mentioned their unbeaten streak or two consecutive postseason championship streak to the girls, one can tell that extending both isn't far from his mind.

“I hope they win because I think the girls deserve it,” Eyler said. “But we'll have to wait and see.”

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