When Remington Ross steps up to the plate, don’t be surprised to see the entire infield tense up.
If the Eaton junior puts the ball into play, more often than not she’ll cover the 60 feet to first base while the throw is still in the air. Ross’ speed is such a factor that the Reds don’t even have signs for her – she can make her own decisions, at the plate and on the bases.
What has been Eaton’s good fortune is often a coaching nightmare for opposing teams. Reds coach Dale Hughes can relate – he remembers witnessing something similar at Sterling just a few years ago.
“Bob Knudson out at Sterling had a couple of girls – his daughter (Taylor) was one of them – that all they had to do was just bunt the ball on the ground and they were safe. There was no throwing them out,” Hughes said. “I used to just go, ‘Man, I wish someday I would ever get somebody like that.’”
Consider that wish granted. Midway through her junior season, Ross is hitting at a .652 clip (30-for-46), is among the state’s leaders with 26 runs scored, and has stolen 31 bases in 12 games.
Last week she topped 100 stolen bases for her prep career.
In a 6-4 victory last Friday over fifth-ranked Faith Christian, Ross had three hits, two stolen bases and two runs scored in the first four innings despite never hitting the ball out of the infield.
“I feel their energy,” Ross said of her teammates. “I’ve got to get on to help them and I know they’ll get me around. I’ve got to do my job, and I know they’ll do theirs.”
Second-ranked Eaton, which has reached the 3A semifinals in each of the past two years and was the runner-up in 2015, is off to a 9-3 start headed into the heart of play in District 3 – better known as the Patriot League.
After enduring a three-game skid in the second week of the season, Eaton has won six games in a row and is averaging 11 runs a game. Senior Allie Hobbs and sophomore Jennifer Jarnigan have combined for 23 extra-base hits and 48 RBIs, but Ross is the one who ignites the offense from the leadoff position. She’s the puzzle that pitchers must try to solve a handful of times each game.
“That’s the key word, is ‘Try,’” said Michelle Woodard, the longtime coach of defending champion and third-ranked Strasburg. “She’s very good at putting the bat on the ball no matter what you do. The strategy with Remington is to try not to pitch her anything that’s really easy to bunt.
“Even letting her get on is dangerous. She’s probably one of the quickest runners I’ve seen in a long time. She’s very efficient and a player we think about a lot.”
With the non-league portion of the schedule pretty much wrapping up last weekend, the next month is all about making moves in the league standings. In the Patriot League, that’s easier said than done. The top three teams in the most recent CHSAANow.com 3A softball poll reside in District 3, and a league team has accounted for six of the previous eight state championships.
In the two years that another team won the title, Strasburg – which has reached six consecutive title games – was the runner-up.
Valley won the crown in 2010 and 2011.
“The Patriot League is one of the best leagues in 3A, so you’re coming up against tough opponents every single week,” Woodard said. “Last year if you look at the final four, three of the four are out of our league, and that’s been a consistent thing. I think that’s what prepares us so well for the state tournament, is playing each other.”
Strasburg rolled past Brush in the 2017 championship game, just a few short hours after needing to rally past Eaton 10-9 in the semis behind three Dakota Stotyn home runs.
The Indians (7-4) are coming off a 2-2 showing in the Berthoud Tournament that included losses to a pair of 4A squads, but the team has one of the state’s elite pitchers in senior Alexis Rayburn (5-1, 0.83 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched).
Strasburg has three league games this week, matching up against No. 1 University on Thursday and Eaton on Saturday.
“I tell our girls this is where we work and try to get better and see what needs to be done so we can be in that championship game,” Woodard said. “Even though it’s such a tough league, I think all the coaches have a lot of respect for each other, and I think that makes it such a wonderful league.”
While Strasburg continues to the be the team to beat, Hughes understands it’s the constant challenge from game-to-game that gets programs ready for the postseason.
A 10-win University team is currently ranked No. 1. Sophomores Andi Padilla and Delaney Wieneke each have 28 hits, and junior Kyra McFarland has scored 26 runs, ripped 11 extra-base hits and stolen 26 bases.
“University’s program has really come along, and Rocky (Byrd) has done a great job building that up. Now they’re a force to be reckoned with,” Hughes said. “Sterling is always Sterling – Bob out there has a good program in the summer, and if they lose one they just bring in the next group.
“(Bob) Odle at Brush, once again, it’s just the consistency in the programs, and I’m hoping that we’re kind of at the same area.”
Eaton already owns a victory over University, and seniors Melanie Fye and Lauren Frink have pitched well as of late. The Reds have four games in the next eight days before starting their second loop through the league.
Ross said the focus needs to be on not letting names be a cause for intimidation, and that matching up against such high-level competition should be something to enjoy.
“It’s so much fun,” Ross said. “We’re more of a family than a team, and it’s just even more fun competing against great competitors.”
Eaton returned seven starters from last year’s semifinal run, and the seniors have now made deep runs three years in a row. Hughes is hoping that translates to more success this fall should Eaton get back to Aurora Sports Park next month.
“It’s that confidence. When we walk on that field, those seniors are teaching those young ones – no, we expect to win,” Hughes said. “We’re here to play a softball game, and we expect to win. We’re going to play it the right way, and that confidence has just been building over the years.
“It started with that group four years ago to what we’re doing now.”