WHEELERSBURG — Roughly 14 months removed from winning the program’s second state championship, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates softball team are beginning their 2023 campaign with similar goals in mind.

‘Burg returns all but three seniors from their state title squad a season ago.

Class of ‘22 graduates Lyndsay Heimbach (left field), Brynley Preston (catcher), and Hailey Conn climbed the mountain top in their final year as Lady Pirates — something this year’s group of seniors are trying to do once again.

“We realized that it takes a team full of good attitudes,” Wheelersburg senior Jaelin Thomas said, of the Lady Pirates winning state in her junior season. “A lot of good, hark work and effort. We expect to be right where we were last year and try to win it again.”

Thomas is one of four ‘Burg seniors entering the ‘23 spring season, along with University of Virginia signee Macee Eaton, Kiera Kennard, and Kierra Rafalowski.

This 2022 state championship plaque hangs on the Wheelersburg home dugout at Gene Bennett Park

Jacob Smith | Daily Times

18 players comprise the ‘23 Lady Pirate roster, including four juniors, five sophomores, and five freshmen.

“We’re definitely stronger. We have the same attitude as last year,” Eaton said, of this year’s team. “We’ve all been here before so we know what it takes to get it done.

With just two senior starters who graduated, the Lady Pirates know what it takes to make the march toward a trip back to Akron’s Firestone Stadium.

Seven of their returning starters in their lineup and in the field are back, along with junior AndiJo Howard and sophomore Kaylynn Carter in the circle.

“Because a lot of people have been there, I feel like it gives us a lot of experience on handling our emotions,” Kennard said. “The freshman that weren’t there were watching, so they know what to expect.”

Wheelersburg opened their season with a 29-0 win at Waverly on Monday.

They’ll host Hillsboro on Tuesday in their home opener at Gene Bennett Park and South Webster on Wednesday, looking to continue the program’s long SOC II winning streak.

In addition to their SOC II slate, Wheelersburg has non-league games scheduled against Lincoln Co. (W. Va.), Heath, Dublin Coffman, Pulaski Co. (W. Va.), St. Albans (W. Va.), Lawrence Co. (Ky.), Cooper (Ky.), Louisville Male (Ky.), and Bullitt East (Ky.)

“It was really fun. Coming back though, there’s a target on our back which isn’t much different than every other year,” Rafalowski said. “We’re humble about it, and I think we’re ready for this season.”

In addition to their aspirations for a second-straight state title, Eaton has some personal goals of her own.

Her final at-bat of her junior season saw her hit her 20th home run of the ‘22 season in the state championship game.

“I’d like to beat some records, I’d like to get another state championship,” Eaton said. “And I’d like to get pitched to.”

Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved