WEST PORTSMOUTH — To be the best, a team has to handle its business like the best.
And behind another stellar pitching performance from Faith Howard, along with seven hits from Brittany Swim and Taylor Fannin, the state’s No. 1-ranked Division III ranked team did just that on Wednesday evening as the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates defeated the West Lady Senators, 10-0, in a six-inning SOC II affair over on the West Side.
For Teresa Ruby, the marks that her unit put together, on all fronts, were of the distinguished variety.
“Faith was on point,” Ruby said. “We played good defense behind her, and those factors, combined with the timely hitting and good baserunning, was an excellent recipe for us tonight.”
Despite the loss, Dani Coleman was pleased with the Lady Senators for not giving up when it easily could have on several occasions.
“We have a lot of maturity with our four seniors,” Coleman said. “They carry their hearts on their sleeves. One of the big things that we worked on this year was mental toughness. The girls came out here today, held their heads high, and fought until the very end. I’m really proud of them.”
After a routine first inning from both squads, the Wheelersburg train got rolling in the second as Sarah Claxon launched a one-out double to the warning track in center field.
While Claxon was ultimately thrown out on an excellent throw from left field to third base by Briana Bricker after a hard hit single to left field by Brittany Swim, the latter stole a base to negate matters, and a drawn walk by Taylor McQuay allowed Christen Risner to drive in Swim with her RBI base knock to right field.
The Lady Pirates only continued their march when the lineup cycled back to the top of the order, as Kalle Coleman’s single straight up the middle of the diamond scored McQuay and Risner. Taylor Fannin then capped off the frame with a RBI double to right center field — her second hit in as many at-bats — to allow Wheelersburg to take a 4-0 lead after driving in all of their runs with two outs on the board. That lead then increased to a 5-0 tally after three full innings of play as a West error allowed Claxon to drive in Bre Klaiber on a 6-3 groundout.
“We played West on Monday, and I felt like we were flat,” Ruby said. “We’d been off for Easter, and we had a long day Saturday (at the Valley of Thunder Classic), but we came out flat on Monday. So we wanted to accumulate more quality at-bats and square the ball up. I felt like we did that today.”
As Wheelersburg took control of the contest offensively, Howard and the Lady Pirates made sure that West wasn’t going to win the game with an offensive outburst.
Daisy Holsinger and Taylor Coleman recorded singles in the first and second inning, respectively, but Howard didn’t allow a hit and only faced one above the minimum from the third inning on en route to a complete game, eight-strikeout performance from the circle. The Lady Pirates didn’t commit a single error on the defensive end of the spectrum.
“We changed our hitting strategy (following Monday’s contest against Wheelersburg),” Coleman said. “We saw that Faith threw a lot of first-pitch strikes against us (on Monday), and followed that up by keeping us off-balance with her repertoire of pitches. As a result, we told our girls, ‘Be aggressive. Look for your pitch.’ Daisy’s been coming along with her hitting, and she’s been working really hard in that area.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Coleman was effective in her own right from the circle. However, five unearned runs — with all five coming between the third through fifth innings — proved to be too much for West to overcome. The junior did, however, force Wheelersburg into nine flyball outs on Wednesday evening.
“Taylor kept Wheelersburg’s hitters on their front foot with a good mixture of speed and her different pitch selection (on Monday),” Coleman said. “Mike Payne (pitching coach) does a great job of accumulating stats and scouting opponents. Tonight, Wheelersburg was ready for the off-speed pitches, but I still felt like Taylor held her own on the mound. She commanded her pitches and she threw very well.”
In the sixth inning, Wheelersburg capped off its excellent performance by adding another tally in the sixth frame to end the affair. Klaiber’s hard-hit double to left field put the senior on second with one gone in the top half of the frame, and Swim — who went 4-for-4 with three stolen bases and a run scored — added a RBI to the table two batters later by driving in Klaiber for the 10th and final run of the contest.
“Brittany’s a senior who has been waiting for the opportunity to break into the starting lineup,” Ruby said. “I’m glad to see her making the most of it.”
Like its four earned runs before it, the Lady Pirates grabbed their final tally with two outs on the board — which is simply another example of how the Wheelersburg softball program is where it is as of the present day.
“It’s just about taking things one game at a time,” Ruby said. “We’re focusing on getting better every day, every game. You’ve got to take it one day at a time and keep yourself from looking ahead.”
And it’s something that Ruby’s opposer has certainly taken note of.
“Wheelersburg deserves everything they’ve obtained this year,” Coleman said. “They play hard, work hard, and embrace the grind.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7