Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Plenty of players had to step up big for West Branch during a resurgent season that culminated with its first state tournament trip tin seven seasons.
There was perhaps not a more fitting player to come up biggest for the Bears with their season on the line.
Junior Trey Eagle added to what had already been his own breakthrough season with the biggest hit of his career, a two-out, two-run walk-off single that lift West Branch to a 3-2 win over last Wednesday Camanche in a Class 2A substate final.
“I knew it was do or die, two outs with bases loaded I was going to tie the game or lose the game,” Eagle said. “I got a line drive to left center and Brady (Lukavsky) was hustling and when I rounded first I saw him score it was a pretty awesome moment.”
The game-winning hit by Eagle was the highpoint of what has been a breakout season for Eagle and West Branch.
Eagle has posted career-highs in every major statistical category while helping West Branch go from 12-15 last season to 20-12 and the Class 2A state tournament this summer.
“He just really had a lot of trust,” first-year West Branch head coach Andy Lapel said. “He had a lot of trust in us as a coaching staff, he trusted himself and really honed in and tried to get better every day. He’s been a big part of what we’ve been able to do.”
The hit against Camanche was the headliner for Eagle this season and will go down as one of the biggest in program history.
With the Bears down to their final strike Eagle lined a game-winning single into the gap in left center to secure the third state tournament berth in history.
“I knew I couldn’t let one by and I fouled another one off and I had popped up a couple of times that game and I didn’t want to do that,” Eagle said. “I wanted to get solid line drive contact on the ball and I knew Brady was going to score if I found a gap.”
The game winner against Camanche may have been the crowning moment for Eagle but it was just another hit in what had already been a standout season for the junior infielder.
A .283 hitter during his first two varsity seasons a career year from Eagle has played a critical role in an offensive uptick for the Bears this year.
Eagle enters the state tournament riding an 11-game hitting streak that has seen his average jump to a career-best .405.
After producing 15 extra-base hits in his first two seasons combined Eagle has 16 extra-base hits this season including a team-high 33 RBI.
“I made the weight room a really big priority and getting bigger and stronger boosts confidence a lot,” Eagle said. “Making that a bigger priority than I had in the past really helped. Seeing the ball come off the bat harder and throwing harder it gives you more confidence and lets you do what you do at a higher level.”
Eagle hit .319 as a freshman starter in 2017 but saw his batting average drop to .255 last season and watched his production at the plate dip.
He split his offseason time between the weight room and the indoor hitting facility at West Branch and at the urging of teammates Matt Paulsen and Pete Espensen got some hitting instruction at Diamond Dreams in Iowa City.
“Paulsen and Pete brought me into Diamond Dreams a couple of times and I was able to learn from Brandon Platts and Eric Toole and take from what they can teach,” Eagle said. “I just added to my game and developed a lot more.”
The offseason work quickly translated to the field.
Eagle was named to the River Valley Conference Elite team for the first time after leading the Bears with 33 RBI and a .702 slugging percentage.
The 33 RBI were more than his first two seasons combined.
“He takes practice very seriously, he takes batting practice very seriously and defensive work very seriously,” Lapel said. “He’s just here to get better every single day.”
The improvement for Eagle hasn’t been limited to the batters’ box.
He was 1-4 with a 4.29 ERA in 31 innings as a sophomore but emerged this season as a solid number two option behind Paulsen in the West Branch rotation.
Eagle is 5-0 with a 2.67 ERA in 36 2/3 innings this season striking out 53 while dropping his walks from 29 last season to 25 this year.
“It’s a lot better than the years prior that’s for sure,” Eagle said of his pitching. “Knowing that coach has that confidence in me has really boosted my confidence. That is almost more essential than the batting stats. If teams don’t score they don’t win so it’s a really important part of my game and I’m really glad to see it improve.”
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