CHARLOTTESVILLE — For many teams midway through a sports season, injuries, illness and exhaustion begin to take their toll.
The 2015 Eastern Hancock softball program is no exception.
With the rapid change in weather, little practice time and few days off between three to four games a week, physical challenges become unavoidable.
The key, Royals coach Sue Anderson said, is to grind it out, survive until the postseason and not let the circumstances overwhelm.
A perfect example of that grind-it-out mentality, she said, was Eastern Hancock’s 6-1 win against Centerville on Friday in Charlottesville.
Without ace Darby Shaw, who is sick with pneumonia, No. 2 Peyton Neisler has had to pitch the Royals’ past three games, including Friday against the Bulldogs (6-5).
On Friday, though Neisler did not have her best stuff, Anderson said, the senior hurler found a way to lead Eastern Hancock (12-4) to its sixth win in seven games.
“(Peyton battling through this game) says so much about who she is,” Anderson said. “She’s had to really step up and pull the load for us.”
Neisler stranded runners in the first four innings, never letting a Bulldog cross the plate.
The right-hander dealt six scoreless innings before conceding a run in the seventh. Neisler scattered six hits, issued no walks and struck out three.
“It’s not just me,” Neisler said after the game. “It’s the whole team stepping up. It weren’t for all these girls, it would be very, very difficult.”
Neisler’s teammates played sound defense behind her, committing just two errors. They also were able to provide ample run support, beginning in the third inning.
After going through the order once without a hit, leadoff hitter Jordan Pierson got things going with a line-drive single off the Bulldog shortstop’s glove.
From there, she used to her speed and aggressiveness to create the first run of the game.
Pierson stole second base. Then, she took third on a wild pitch, and after the catcher missed her mark trying to throw her out at third, Pierson trotted home to give Eastern Hancock a 1-0 lead.
The speedster finished the day 3-for-4 with a pair of singles and a double.
“Once we get that one person who ignites our offense, a lot of good things can happen,” Anderson said. “It relieves stress on the rest of the kids in the lineup. It’s not always Jordan, but a lot of the time it has been.”
Pierson certainly served as catalyst and stress reliever Thursday night.
Once she manufactured her run, the Royals never slowed down.
In the fourth inning, Peyton West led off with a double and came around to score on an error to make it 2-0. West finished the day 2-for-3.
Savannah Patterson followed a few batters later with an RBI groundout, and by the end of the inning, Eastern Hancock was ahead 4-0. The Royals tacked on runs in the fifth and sixth innings before Neisler finished off the Bulldogs.
“I’m just proud of my kids,” Anderson said. “We’re getting through the grind, going on one pitcher and just doing what we can to get wins.”
The Royals stay in Charlottesville for today’s doubleheader against Class 2A No. 18 Lapel (14-3). On Monday, they head to Middletown for a matchup against No. 7 Shenandoah (10-5), a game Anderson is particularly excited for.
“We have a beef with them,” Anderson said. “So we have them on our radar.”
Anderson is hoping to avenge the 8-4 loss the Raiders dealt the Royals last year after the Raiders scored four late runs to pull out the victory.
“We got beat at home,” the coach said. “You never like to lose at home.”