Eagle knows the game
By FRANK PASTOR
She doesn't fit the description. But make no mistake, Emily Eicholtz is an ace.
By changing speeds to keep batters off balance and trusting her defense, Eicholtz led Springstead to a 12-game turnaround from last season and the most successful year in school history.
Pitching every inning of every game, the junior right-hander sparked the Eagles (19-7) to a school record for victories, their first playoff appearance, first district championship and first playoff win.
"Springstead always had the record of being the team that doesn't do well, that has the worst record in the county," Eicholtz said. "This year was just our year to show everybody that we have something and we have a good program."
It all started with Eicholtz.
A leader by example, she kept her cool in tight situations and her teammates followed.
"Nothing really rattles us, and it just starts with her and filters down through the whole team," coach Carmine Rufa said.
Springstead defeated Lecanto 2-1 and Central 1-0 in their district tournament and Land O'Lakes 9-8 in a region quarterfinal before losing 2-0 to defending state champion Green Cove Springs Clay in the region semifinals.
Relying on a mediocre fastball and a still-developing changeup, Eicholtz was susceptible to big innings last season.
But by refining her changeup and adding a screwball, riseball and dropball -- throwing all for strikes -- she was able to keep her team in games until it found a way to win. She pitched a no-hitter against South Sumter and a one-hitter against Gulf but might have been at her best in the district championship win over Central. Using her changeup as her out pitch, she struck out five while allowing three hits and one walk.
"Some games I do good but don't feel like I did," Eicholtz said. "Everything was working that night. Everything was just good."
Eicholtz finished with a 19-7 record, 87 strikeouts and a 1.15 ERA. She was equally effective at the plate, batting .348 and producing a Hernando County-high eight doubles and 15 RBIs.
Her fielding is the most underrated part of her game. Springstead does not charge its first baseman on bunts, leaving Eicholtz, catcher Caitlin DeCristofaro and third baseman Vanessa Ziegler to field the ball.
"If I was to hand out gold gloves, she would get one, without a doubt," Rufa said of the pitcher.
An honors student, Eicholtz works year-round to stay in shape. She plays softball in the summer and fall, and runs cross country to improve her conditioning.
She gets help at home. Her mother, Marsha, coaches cross country. Her father, Mike, serves as pitching coach, calling pitches from the dugout and setting the infield.
"He's the one that keeps the batters off balance, but they're on the same wavelength," Rufa said. "Emily understands the game."
Better than any pitcher in Springstead history.
-- Staff writer Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111