WHEELERSBURG — With Teresa Ruby’s teams, there are always two things that one knows they can count on when the Wheelersburg Pirates’ softball program takes the field: discipline and mental toughness.
On Friday evening, those qualities — which had led the Lady Pirates to a 21-0 record heading into Friday evening’s Division III, Chillicothe I Sectional Championship bout against the Wellston Rockets’ softball program — allowed Wheelersburg to claim its 22nd victory in as many contests to start the year with a 15-5 victory in six innings over Wellston in a contest that was held at Gene Bennett Park in Wheelersburg.
For Teresa Ruby, the approach that her unit had, especially from an offensive standpoint, was an impressive quality to behold for the fifth-year leader of the program.
“I was worried about how we would hit the ball with being off for a week, but I thought that we put together some very good at-bats,” Ruby said. “We ran the bases extremely well (on Friday). We made things happen on the basepaths and got them a little frustrated. I was really happy with that part of the game. We executed our bunts well, and on that side of the ball, we did extremely well.”
From the outset, the Lady Pirates wasted no time setting the tone as Wheelersburg hit the scoreboard early and often. After an Addi Collins single scored Boo Sturgill from second base after Sturgill walked and stole second with two gone in the frame to put the Lady Pirates up by a 1-0 tally after an inning of play, Wheelersburg kicked its offense into another gear.
Following a Bella Williams walk with one out in the bottom of the second inning of action, back-to-back beautifully-placed bunts by Laney Eller and Mia Darnell loaded the bases for Christen Risner, who brought in both Williams and Eller with a two-RBI double to the outfield. Then, after a 6-3 groundout RBI by Taylor Fannin, Boo Sturgill drew a walk, and cleverly caught the defense napping by sprinting to second base when the Wellston defense took their eyes off of the freshman once she reached first base. The ensuing throw to second ultimately allowed Fannin to slide in ahead of the return throw to home plate, and following the sequence, Collins capped off the inning with an RBI double to the outfield to score Sturgill as Wheelersburg took a 6-0 lead after two innings of play.
While the Lady Pirates did face some adversity when an Emily Kisor double was followed by a walk, and later, a three-run home run by the Lady Rockets’ Ashley Compston, that cut the Wheelersburg lead in half, it didn’t slow the Lady Pirates’ roll offensively.
As if it were a replay of the previous frame, a walk by Williams, along with a single and a stolen base by Eller, and a walk by Darnell, which loaded the bases once again, Risner drove in Williams with her RBI base knock and Sturgill drew a walk to drive in Darnell. An infield error then allowed Risner and Fannin to score as Wheelersburg ultimately took a 10-3 lead after three innings of work.
For the contest, the seven-through-nine hitters — Williams, Eller, and Darnell — went 6-for-8 with four walks, three stolen bases, two RBI, and an impressive eight runs scored in all en route to setting the tone for the Lady Pirates on the evening.
“Anytime you can get that production from the bottom of your order, good things are going to happen,” Ruby said of Williams, Eller, and Darnell. “That part of our order has been tremendous for us all year. They give us quality at-bats, and that’s what we look for out of them. They all had great days again.”
After quiet frames from both units in the fourth and fifth innings of action, Wellston again made things interesting as a two-run homer by Erica Scott allowed the Lady Rockets to cut the Lady Pirates’ lead to a 10-5 margin heading into the bottom of the sixth frame.
However, as with the third frame, Wheelersburg responded to the adversity that hit them with a vengeance.
After a leadoff double from Mallory Bergan, Williams launched a double of her own into the outfield to score Bergan while advancing to third base on an outfield error, and Eller followed with another single that scored Williams. The freshman then stole second base two pitches into Darnell’s at-bat — which allowed the Lady Pirates to go a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts on the day — and scored on a ringing double by Risner, who collected her second double of the day en route to going 3-for-5 with the two doubles, four RBI, and two runs scored.
“We want to be smartly aggressive,” Ruby said. “We’ve got a lot of speed. We haven’t had this kind of speed, one-through-nine, in any of the time that I’ve been here. We’ve had speed in certain places, but with this lineup, we can make something happen in just about any part of the lineup. It’s fun. It’s fun to coach that.”
Wheelersburg, however, wasn’t done.
After a 4-3 groundout, Sturgill kept the inning alive by drawing her fourth walk of the contest, and quickly advanced to second base through defensive indifference, which allowed Collins — who went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, and four RBI on the day — to put the final touches on the affair by shooting a single back up the middle of the diamond to score Risner and Sturgill and set the final score as a result.
With the victory, the Lady Pirates will play Sardinia Eastern — a 3-2 winner over Minford — in the Division III, Chillicothe I District Finals at Unioto High School. Game time is set for Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s a challenge to begin with, because every team that makes it to Unioto is a quality softball team, but our kids are young and haven’t been on this path before, so it will be a bigger test,” Ruby said. “(On Friday), I felt like we let Wellston back in the game when we could’ve shut the door, and that’s what we’ve talked about. We’ve got to be better at that as we go along on this path. We can’t open that door back up, because you’re just asking for trouble. No game’s easy from here on out. Eastern Brown’s going to be great competition, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT