AURORA — The chase is over for Eaton's softball team and head coach Dale Hughes.
The Reds captured their first Class 3A championship, and brought their coach to tears, as they defeated Lutheran, 5-1, Saturday at Aurora Sports Park.
“I’ve spent 17 years chasing that damn trophy,” said an emotional Hughes as he watched his team celebrate with their families, friends and each other. “Gosh! I feel so happy! It’s a big weight off my shoulders. What do they call that … ‘Always a bridesmaid, never a bride’? Well, we got it done this year.”
Freshman pitcher Sadie Ross, who is all of 13-years-old, was dominant in the win for Eaton. She struck out 12 while allowing just one run in the complete-game win.
Ross, who drove in the game’s first run with a scorching ground-rule double in the bottom of the first inning, also fulfilled a promise she made to her coach at the beginning of the season.
“I’ve been told many a time that she doesn’t shy away from the pressure, and she showed it today,” Hughes said. “She’s been wanting this for awhile. Her big sister (Remington) played for us and was with us a couple of times when we came up short.
“Sadie came up to me at the beginning of this year and said ‘Coach, we’re going to get ‘er done,” he revealed.
The top-seeded Reds, who advanced to their third title game with a 15-3, four-inning victory over Brush in the semifinals, finished second in 2015 and 2018 (falling both times to Strasburg).
Ross wasn’t about to let it happen again.
“It has been a long ride. We worked so hard for this, and it feels amazing,” she said. “I knew this year was the year we would go all the way. I’ve seen this team get so close in the past. It’s time that we have one.”
Senior third baseman Jenny Jarnagin was 2-for-3 in the championship game and scored two runs, including one on a massive home run to right-centerfield that iced the game for Eaton.
“It feels awesome,” she raved after the game. “We’ve been working hard for four years to get this. We were here my sophomore year, too, and when we didn’t win, it sucked bad.
“It feels awesome right now knowing that our hard work paid off,” Jarnagin added. “Mentally, we were always able to stay positive today. Even when they (Brush and Lutheran) scored runs, we didn’t get down. We just kept scoring runs and battling back.”
Lutheran, the No. 3 seed in just its first year as a program, defeated defending champion University in the other semifinal (14-3 in five innings) to advance to the championship game.
But the day belonged to Hughes, Ross and the Reds.
“I’m so happy for our seniors,” Hughes said. “They really led the way this season with their leadership.”