CHILLICOTHE — When asked on Monday, Wheelersburg softball sluggers Macee Eaton and Catie Boggs didn’t know how many home runs they had hit individually this season.
Nor, did junior ace pitcher AndiJo Howard have any idea on how many career no-hitters —or even perfect games —she had thrown in her three Pirate years.
But sometimes, perhaps for these perfect Pirates even, the less you know the better —and all Wheelersburg knows is, especially this time of year, is to win the next tournament tilt in front of it.
That the Pirate softballers indeed did on Monday at their home away from home of Unioto High School —as undefeated Wheelersburg shut out overwhelming underdog River Valley 10-0 in a Southeast District Division III semifinal.
In the process, Howard notched a no-hitter —and Boggs with two and Eaton with one combined for three home runs and exactly half of the Pirates’ 10 points.
The Pirates plated a pair of runs in the opening inning, then Boggs belted a three-run home run in the third —before the Pirates put together four more runs on four more hits in the fourth, two of which were back-to-back solo shots by Eaton and Boggs.
But, in fact, Eaton and Boggs did one better —they homered on back-to-back pitches.
In the sixth, with Wheelersburg leading 9-0, the Pirates loaded the bases with one out and two runners — Haley Myers and Eaton — reaching via Raider errors.
Boggs then reached on an infield hit to load the bases and finish 4-for-4 at the plate, as Howard ended the game with her bat just like she did the Raider offense with her arm —with a fly ball to right field that was dropped for River Valley’s eighth miscue.
Myers easily scored for the 10th and final run of the mercy-rule, and rather relaxed, win — and the defending Division III state champion Pirates pushed their season record to 27-0.
To those skeptics, and even ridiculous critics, some naysayers say the top-seeded Pirates needed six innings to top 13th-seeded River Valley —and only won 10-0.
Several Pirate contests have resulted in wins of 20-or-more markers —including their 22-0 sectional championship over Chesapeake.
So forgive Wheelersburg, with its outstanding cache, not completely crushing every opponent every outing.
Truth be told, Monday marked a game in which the heavily-favored Pirates played primarily to get through to the next round.
Wheelersburg veteran head coach Teresa Ruby remarked upon all the mid-to-late month of May distractions — that even the Pirates encounter.
“You can talk about it and talk about it, but the kids ultimately have to be the ones that follow through. We talk about not taking anyone lightly, showing up and being ready to play every game. It’s always a struggle in spring season towards the end of the year with everything that goes on. End of the school year, banquets, proms, graduations, graduation parties, so it’s always a trick trying to keep them focused. You hate to say it for a tournament game, but I felt like we came out a little flat, and our energy wasn’t where I would like it to be. But we came away with the win, and you never take them for granted,” said Ruby. “Take them however you can get them.”
How the Pirates did it on Monday, in only an hour and 15 minutes, was mostly mundane.
In the field, the left-handed Howard had a perfect game going until the sixth inning —when Autumn Blaisdell drew a walk for the Raiders’ lone baserunner.
Otherwise, Howard faced 19 Raiders, struck out two, and got batter after batter to either ground out or pop out to Pirate fielders.
Howard helped her cause with a pair of defensive assists, as the shortstop Boggs made three defensive assists and one putout.
“That’s what she (Howard) does. AndiJo had good movement on her pitches today and hit her spots well. That’s how we play it when she is in there (pitcher’s circle). We back her up with our defense. Sydney (Skiver) at third base and Catie (Boggs) at shortstop had several nice plays,” said Ruby.
For the Pirates at the plate, and after Raider pitcher Abbii Hollanbaugh had her only strikeout on the first batter she saw, they crafted eight hits to go along with the eight RV errors.
In the first, Myers was hit by a pitch and Eaton walked for the 26th time this season, as Boggs singled to center to cross Myers —and a Howard fly ball was dropped in right field for Eaton to score.
Hollanbaugh did retire the Pirates 1-2-3 in innings two and five, but Boggs twice and Eaton once in between took her well beyond the Unioto fence.
In the third, Myers singled and Eaton reached on an error, setting Boggs up for her three-run shot to right center.
In the fourth, Rileigh Lang reached on an error with one out and advanced to third on a passed ball, then scored on a well-executed squeeze bunt for an infield hit by freshman Ava Estep.
But the speedy Estep didn’t stop at first base, and in fact she sped up for second and then third — when a throw to second sailed into the outfield.
Estep actually scored on her at-bat to make it 7-0, as with two out Eaton for her 13th homer of the season and Boggs her 12th went back-to-back —on pitches, let alone at-bats.
For the decorated Eaton, the two-time first-team Division III all-Ohioan and University of Virginia signee, it was her 47th home run of her career —one that encompasses only three seasons, because her freshman campaign was unfortunately canceled because of the coronavirus threat.
Howard then singled on the Pirates’ next at-bat —before the sixth inning and her fly ball that scored the 10th run.
Wheelersburg did well again something it traditionally does —put the softball in play and force the defense to make mistakes.
“We had some power shots, but we put the ball in play and put pressure on their defense, which is what we talk about all the time,” said Ruby. “We have good speed, so put the ball in play and put pressure on them to have to make plays.”
And that, indeed, Boggs, Eaton, Howard and ALL the Pirates all know so well.
Wheelersburg will return to Unioto on Saturday —and play another strong Southeastern Ohio Division III program at 11 a.m. for the district championship.
That is the seventh-seeded Wellston Golden Rockets, which defeated 19th-seeded Coal Grove 3-2 in Monday’s second semifinal at Unioto.
In that game, Wellston sophomore pitcher Hannah Potts struck out 16 Hornets —as Wheelersburg defeated Wellston two years ago en route to its fifth all-time state semifinal appearance.
The others before 2021 and 2022 were in 2004, and three consecutive seasons from 2015 thru 2017.
Wheelersburg won its first state softball championship in 2016.
Ruby said her Pirates will practice and prepare for the Golden Rockets, and aim high for yet another district championship.
“We’ll get back at it here the rest of this week and get ready to go here again on Saturday,” she said.
* * *
River Valley 000 000 —0 0 8
Wheelersburg 203 401 —10 8 0
RVHS: Abbii Hollanbaugh 6IP, 10R, 3ER, 1HB, 1BB, 8H, 0WP, 1K, 32BF
WHS: AndiJo Howard 6IP, 0ER, 0ER, 0HB, 1BB, 0H, 0WP, 2K, 19BF
W — AndiJo Howard; L — Abbii Hollanbaugh
HR — Catie Boggs, Wheelersburg, 3rd inning, two on; Macee Eaton, Wheelersburg, 4th inning, none on; Catie Boggs, Wheelersburg, 4th inning, none on