AKRON, Ohio — And the magic number was one.
The Wheelersburg Pirates made quick work of the Cardington-Lincoln Pirates Friday, claiming a 10-1 victory. With the win, Wheelersburg sits at 25-2 on the season.
However, the Lady Pirates will be looking to make their 26th celebration of the year a special on Saturday, when Wheelersburg looks to bring the OHSAA Division III State Championship back to Wheelersburg for the second straight season.
” … The girls have been here. They were here last year. They know what to expect,” Pirates head coach Teresa Ruby said. “We’ve got seven seniors. We’re a mature group, so (the championship game) is going to be about us putting in the work. We’ve done what we need to do, let’s finish it.”
This is the third consecutive year Wheelersburg has reached the OHSAA Division III Final Four, and the experience, in its own right, has proven to be invaluable to Ruby’s squad.
“The first time we were (in the final four) three years ago, you could see it in their eyes and you could see it in their approach,” Ruby said. “Today, same as last year, a whole different approach. It’s very business like. They know what to expect. They know our routine. We keep them comfortable in knowing the routine. I give that a lot of value and I think it’s served us well.”
Taking the mound for her second straight championship game when Wheelersburg steps onto the diamond against Warren Champion (31-2) will be Faith Howard. Her goal is simple — stay relaxed.
“Just to stay loose and let my defense work for me,” Howard said. “We’ve been here before, so I don’t feel a whole lot of pressure. A lot of times people will say, ‘Do you feel the pressure to repeat and defend your state title?’ Of course there’s the pressure of the game, but when you’re trying to defend something, no one is ever going to take away the championship we won last year.
“So we want to be on the attack, not acting all defensive. We want to go on the offense, and go out and get it.”
Ruby said Howard wasn’t just satisfied from winning the title last year, she continued to work until she elevated her game to new heights.
“Faith’s battled all year and she put a lot of time in the offseason to improve, she didn’t rest on what happened last year,” Ruby said. “The fact she pitched in and won a state championship game, then proceeded to step it up even further from last year, shows the kind of player that she is. We have certainly reaped the rewards of that, but she’ll also tell you that she’s only as good as the eight people behind her. But you can see, when the situations get tough, she rises to the occasion. She’s done that all season and all postseason.”
Howard said she knew complacency wasn’t an option.
“Last year was last year and this year is this year,” Howard said. “I knew if I wanted to play and be successful again I had to improve my game because we’re not last year’s team, we’re a completely different team in a lot of different aspects. So, I knew I needed to continue to keep getting better.”
Before reaching the title game, Wheelersburg dispatched of Cardington-Lincoln behind the offensive outputs of Taylor Fannin and Taylor McQuay. Both players went 3-for-4 while scoring three runs. McQuay recorded three RBI while Fannin notched two in the victory.
Wheelersburg will take the diamond for the championship game Saturday at 4 p.m., at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Ruby said her team is focused and ready to finish the job.
“It goes back to the senior leadership, even the couple of young kids we’ve got out there — they’ve been here too,” Ruby said. “The poise that they have and the focus, they have great focus. They’ll be ready.”
Reach Chris Slone at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1927 OR on Twitter @crslone