AKRON — For the first time in school history, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates have captured a state championship in softball.
The Lady Pirates defeated the South Range (Canfield, Ohio) Lady Raiders, 8-3, in the OHSAA Division III State Softball Championship game.
Just over an hour and a half after Faith Howard threw the first pitch of the game, the Wheelersburg faithful in attendance were standing and cheering for their Lady Pirates as they held the state championship trophy in triumph.
“Wheelersburg Pirates, you were in the state tournament last year, so you know what it takes to get to the final four,” OHSAA Director of Information Services, Tim Stried said shortly before presenting the state championship trophy to the Lady Pirates. “Going into this year, you developed a motto, ‘Embrace the Grind’, in fact, I see it on your coach’s shirt…and what did it get you this year…a number one state ranking and a third trip to the final four. Now it has gotten you the first softball state championship in Wheelersburg history.”
After being knocked out of the state tournament last year in the semifinal round, Wheelersburg came back to win it all this season.
“I know the pride that southern Ohio takes in all of its teams, when they make it to the final four and today for the first time since 1983, the softball state championship is going back to Scioto County,” Stried said.
An emotional Teresa Ruby, Wheelersburg softball coach, was nearly at a loss for words when describing the feeling she felt when her squad recorded the final out to win their first state championship.
“Elation, happiness, I’m just so happy for the girls,” Ruby said. “They worked really hard this year. It’s going to be really nice to take a state championship back to southern Ohio. It’s been too long.”
The Lady Pirates wasted little time putting runs on the scoreboard. After nearly scoring in the first inning, Wheelersburg took full advantage of a Kasey Bergan lead-off single in the bottom of the second inning and then another single by Howard two batters later.
With two runners on, Bergan and Myra Sosby, who was courtesy running for Howard, Taylor McQuay came up with a clutch single to drive in both runners, to give Wheelersburg a 2-0 lead after two innings of play.
In the next inning, Wheelersburg added more pressure to South Range, as the Lady Pirates added three more runs. Raygan Reyes and Michal Cunningham started the inning with back-to-back singles.
Two batters later, Bergan reached first after being hit by a pitch, then Laiken Salyers hit a sacrifice fly into left field to score Reyes. Howard came up next to drive in Cunningham off a single. Soon after, Bergan scored on a wild pitch, just before the inning came to an end.
After three innings, Wheelersburg led 5-0.
The score remained unchanged until the top of the fifth inning, when the Lady Raiders got their first break on offense.
Hannah Dennison started the inning off for South Range with a single, which was followed by Morgan Smith reaching on a fielding error.
That brought up Felicia Gaeta for South Range. Gaeta brought the Lady Raiders right back into the game with a three-run bomb into left field, cutting Wheelersburg’s lead to two runs, 5-3.
Wheelersburg answered back in the bottom of the sixth though, scoring another three runs to reclaim their previously held five-run lead.
Kalley Coleman reached first on a one-out single, followed by Reyes drawing a walk. Klaiber came up two batters later and ripped a triple into deep left field, scoring both Coleman and Reyes.
Klaiber was then brought in by a Bergan double, before the inning ended.
Needing only three outs to win their first state championship, Wheelersburg took the field for the top of the seventh inning with an 8-3 lead.
After getting the first batter out, Gaeta struck again for South Range with a single and then advanced to second on the throw. Lydia Baird then grounded out to Coleman at second base, advancing Gaeta to third.
Needing one out to close the game and claim a state championship, Howard struck out Hope Thomas with a called third strike, giving Wheelersburg its first softball state championship.
After giving up three runs in the fifth, the Lady Pirates came back and got those runs back, as if the home run didn’t phase the now state champions.
“That’s why this group is so special,” Ruby said. “The confidence, the approach we’ve had all season. We’ve been invested in this all season and we talked last night and again today, telling them don’t come hoping you’re going to win this, come knowing that we’re going to win this and it was ours to take.”
Faith Howard took the mound again for Wheelersburg, pitching a complete seven innings. Howard gave up three runs, two earned, off five hits. She struck out five batters and didn’t issue any walks. With the win, Howard improves her record to 22-2 on the season.
Caragyn Yanek pitched all six innings Wheelersburg came to bat. She allowed eight runs, all earned, from 13 hits. She walked two batters and hit one with a pitch. Yanek also struck out one batter. Since she was the pitcher of record for South Range, she received the loss, bringing her season record to 23-3.
Kalle Coleman, Raygan Reyes, Kasey Bergan, Faith Howard and Taylor McQuay all had a pair of hits in the state championship win.
Coleman hit a double in the first and scored in the sixth.
Reyes singled in the third and fourth innings and drew a walk in the sixth. She also scored twice.
Bergan hit a single and a double, got hit by a pitch and drove in one run.
Howard went 2-for-2 with a two singles and an RBI. She also walked in the sixth.
McQuay had a pair of singles and drove in a couple of runs.
A HISTORY MAKING SEASON
The Lady Pirates made history with their state championship win, capturing the school’s first state title in the sport.
Wheelersburg was led by seven seniors, Lexy Traylor, Cunningham, Reyes, Lexi Blair, Sosby, Mackenzie Horton and Salyers.
“They’re a special group of young ladies,” Ruby said. “I keep saying that word, but it has been a hard year for them. They lost a classmate this year and they’ve carried him with them, throughout this and it’s just well-deserved. They’ve worked very hard to get to this point, endless hours.”
Wheelersburg lost a student earlier in the school year, Ethan Pauley. The Lady Pirates wore a patch with Pauley’s initials on their right arm.
A SPECIAL THANKS
“Thank you to the Wheelersburg community, to everybody that’s been supporting this team,” Ruby said. “We couldn’t have asked for more. It’s a big, large family and it has just been a pleasure to be a part of it.”
Wheelersburg 8, South Range 3
Wheelersburg – Coleman 2-4 (R, 2B, SB), Reyes 2-2 (2 R, BB), Cunningham 1-3 (R, BB, SB), Klaiber (2 RBI, 3B), Bergan 2-3 (RBI, 2B, HBP), Salyers 0-3 (RBI), Howard 2-2 (RBI, BB), McQuay 2-3 (2 RBI), Sosby 0-0 (R)
South Range – Taylor 1-3, Dennison 1-3 (R), Smith 1-3 (R), Gaeta 2-3 (HR, 3 RBI)
W – Howard (22-2) 7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 K
L – Yanek (23-3) 6 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.