In big moments, the exceptional teams just seem to always find a way to get it done.
And over the balance of Teresa Ruby’s tenure with the Wheelersburg Pirates’ softball program, they’ve gotten stuff done.
On Friday evening, the confidence, poise, and talent level of Wheelersburg’s players took over in a big way, as the Lady Pirates scored a total 13 runs combined in the first, second, and fourth innings of play to defeat the Minford Lady Falcons, 13-0, in a five-inning affair at Wheelersburg en route to another outright SOC II title.
For Ruby, the end result was an excellent capper to the careers that the seniors have put together throughout their careers inside SOC II play.
“I’m happy for our seniors,” Ruby said. “It’s a talented group. I’m naturally happy for the team, but it’s always a great thing when your seniors get to go out with a championship. That was one of our goals this year. It’s been a tough week, but I was glad to see us come out of it and start to hit the ball in the way that I know that we’re capable of hitting it.”
As for Preston Messer, the loss was certainly a disappointment, but the fight that his team showed is something that Messer was certainly pleased with.
“That isn’t even close to our team’s best performance at all,” Messer said. “It’s hard to fight back once a good team like Wheelersburg gets ahead of you. I’ll give our girls credit. They never laid down and they never quit. That’s what we try to teach them here, to always battle and fight.”
In the game’s outset, however, it looked as if Minford would start out strong. Emily Shoemaker’s single up the middle of the diamond and a sacrifice bunt by Brittani Wolfenbarker allowed Shoemaker to advance into scoring position with just one out in the top half of the first inning.
However, Shoemaker was extinguished on a flyball to left field that got the leadoff hitter doubled up on a 7-6-4 double play, and from there, the contest proved to be all Wheelersburg as Shoemaker — who went 2-for-2 on the evening — was the only runner to advance into scoring position.
“Emily’s a good leadoff hitter for us,” Messer said. “She has been all year long. Tonight, she was a spark for us. We hit the ball good tonight; we were just unfortunate in the sense that we hit the ball right at Wheelersburg. Our bats were good tonight. However, we committed more errors tonight than we have over the past 14 games.”
After Kalle Coleman advanced to third on an error in the outfield to lead off the bottom half of the first, the senior scored on a passed ball, and a single by Kasey Bergan, along with a hit batter and another error, allowed Bergan to come home and score. Bre Klaiber then scored on a wild pitch to make the score 3-0 in favor of Wheelersburg after the first inning of play.
However, Wheelersburg was far from finished.
After an error and a runner interference call allowed Taylor McQuay to advance to second base, Coleman drove in McQuay to extend the advantage and advanced to third after an error allowed Taylor Fannin to reach.
Then, behind its aggressive baserunning and timely hitting, the Lady Pirates proceeded to put the game on ice.
After Bergan laid down a nice bunt that allowed Coleman to score on a play at the plate — where it was ruled that the ball was bobbled — the catcher, with nobody covering second base, wasted no time racing to second en route to a bunt double while Fannin advanced to third in the same play. Klaiber then followed by depositing a three-run home run over the left center field fence to push the advantage to an 8-0 tally after two innings of play.
Klaiber, a Long Island University-Post signee, proved her abilities in spades on Friday evening by going 1-for-1 with the three-run homer, a walk, an unintentional hit by pitch, and three runs scored on the evening.
“It was a bomb,” Ruby said of Klaiber’s home run in the second inning. “Good at-bat. Bre’s bat has really come alive in the last couple of weeks, and at a good time. We need her to give us quality at-bats in that four-spot, and she’s doing what she’s capable of doing.”
With the game in Wheelersburg’s hands, the Lady Pirates wasted no time making the contest a formality.
After ‘Burg took advantage of an error and drawn walks by Klaiber and Faith Howard in the bottom of the fourth, Sarah Claxon followed by ripping a bases-loaded, two-run double into left field to score Fannin and Klaiber, and Brittany Swim’s sacrifice fly, along with RBI base knocks from McQuay and Coleman, allowed Wheelersburg to take a 13-0 lead in an inning where the Lady Pirates put up a cluster of quality at-bats.
“That’s what we haven’t been doing,” Ruby said. “We’ve been getting underneath the ball a lot and hitting popups. I told the kids, ‘My grandma can catch a popup.’ We needed to focus on our execution and getting our bunts down when we can. Obviously, that was the difference in the 2-1 game that we had with Minford and (Friday night’s game). Having solid at-bats with people on base, and hitting through the middle of the ball, good things happen when you can put the ball in play with some authority.”
Following the offensive outburst, Howard, who was as solid as a rock from the mound, kept up her stellar play. The senior, behind the help of a stellar defensive effort where no errors were committed, pitched a three up, three down fifth inning en route to a complete game three-hitter on Friday evening.
“Minford put the ball in play,” Ruby said. “They have some excellent batters who put the ball in play with some authority. We always put a lot of emphasis on only giving a team three outs. Three outs an inning, don’t give them any more chances, and make them earn it. Today, we played error-free ball. It was nice.”
The concern for all of the people in attendance, however, wasn’t necessarily on the outcome of the game itself.
Zoe Doll, who came on to pitch the final pair of frames in relief of Ariel Kingery, took a hard shot in the bottom of the fourth inning after Taylor Fannin’s rocket of a shot back up the middle pounded Doll in the shoulder. Fannin and Ruby were among the individuals to check on Doll a good 20 minutes following the end of the SOC II bout between the rivals.
“Right now, Zoe has a knot on her shoulder,” Messer said of the injury. “We’ll try to get a trainer looked at her. She’s a tough kid though. She’ll bounce back.”
While their main concern was whether or not Doll was okay, Ruby was also proud of Fannin for checking on the junior standout following the affair.
“Taylor is an outstanding young lady,” Ruby said. “We were just really concerned about Zoe. She took quite a shot.”
For both units, they’ll be looking to finish out the year in a strong fashion. Minford has a trio of tough games with Eastern Brown, Notre Dame, and SOC II rival Valley on the docket, while Wheelersburg was scheduled to play West Virginia Class AAA champion Hurricane (W. Va.) on Saturday and will play Ashland (Ky.) and Russell (Ky.) next week.
“We schedule it that way on purpose so that we can sharpen up and get ready for tournament time,” Ruby said of the backloaded schedule. “We can’t rest yet.”
“I was telling them out there on the field at the end of the game, ‘We’re going to fight, or we’re going to fold,’” Messer said of the outlook for the remainder of the year. “‘We’re going to see what we’re made of. How are we going to react?’”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7