SALEM-The Salem softball team ran smack into one of the best pitching performances they had seen in quite some time on Thursday.
Minerva junior Rachel Eberling flummoxed the Quaker bats with a steady diet of junk pitches on her way to a career-high 15 strikeouts as the Lions eased past Salem 6-1 at Southeast Elementary School.
"She (Eberling) has the most movement on the ball out of anybody we've seen," Salem senior Hannah Carner said. "We haven't faced anybody that good in a while."
Minerva improves to 11-1 on the season and 5-1 in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference, one game behind first-place Louisville and in sole possession of second place. Salem drops to 3-10 overall and 1-5 in the NBC.
Eberling, who is now 4-1 on the year, was dominant right from the first pitch. The right-hander struck out the first eight batters she faced and 12 of her first 15. The Quakers did not get a baserunner until Haley Carner walked with one out in the fourth.
"My curveball and screwball were both really good tonight," Eberling said. "I felt really in control out there."
Throughout the evening, Eberling had the Quakers flailing away at her combination of fastball, curveball, changeup, screwball, riseball and dropball. She had at least one strikeout in every inning. Every Salem hitter struck out at least once.
"Rachel's location was outstanding," Minerva coach Katie Hannen said. "Her variety of pitches really had them off-balance."
Minerva gave Eberling all the runs she needed early on with some aggressive baserunning. Shania Miller led off the first with a walk, stole second and third and came home on a fielding error by Rylee Meals. Shelby Amatangelo reached on that error and eventually scored on a fielders choice. She scored all the way from second base the next inning on another fielders choice to make it 3-0. Eberling finished with two singles, two steals and a walk, while Amatangelo had a single and two RBIs.
"We like to score by forcing things on the bases," Eberling said. "The more you are aggressive the more chance you have to advance runners."
The Quakers held up in the middle innings to keep them within three runs most of the night.
"We made some progress on defense tonight," Salem coach Jodie Hippely said. "We could have let it get away after the first two innings but we hung tough defensively."
"We are starting to mend together in the field," Carner said. "To only make one error is huge for us."
The Quakers could make little progress against Eberling however. They threatened in the fourth with runners on first-and-second with one out, but Eberling slammed the door with strikeouts of Clara Janofa and Kari Seddon to end the inning. Salem put runners on second and third in the sixth with nobody out but Eberling breezed through the rest of the inning with two strikeouts. Rylee Meals had the only extra base hit with a double.
"We started to hit her a little bit late in the game," Carner said "But she did a great job of making the right pitches to get out of trouble. She's just a great pitcher."
Salem hosts Louisville today, while Minerva is at West Branch.
Eberling faced the Quakers in each of the last two years, but Hippely could not remember her being as in control as she was Thursday.
"She was pretty good last year," Hippely said. "But as she's gotten older she's gotten more confident and added a couple of pitches."
The Quakers have lost nine in a row after a 3-1 start.
Louisville beat Minerva 6-0 in the teams' first meeting. They meet again at Minerva on May 6th.
"We like where we are as a team right now," Hannen said. "We fully believe we can win the league."
MI-Rachel Eberling, wp, (7IP, 15K, 1BB) and Lexi Jones.
SA-Clara Janofa, lp, (7IP, 1K, 7BB) and Kari Seddon.