CHILLICOTHE — When the Wheelersburg Pirates’ softball program takes the field, the opponent that goes up against said program usually knows that a victory will be a daunting task from the start.
And much of that reason comes from Wheelersburg’s overall performance in the lesser-glorified areas of the game — including the offensive baserunning and defensive fielding aspects of softball.
On Wednesday evening, both of those areas — which have routinely been the Lady Pirates’ top areas of expertise throughout the 2018 season — came to light again in a Division III, Chillicothe I District Semifinal at Unioto High School.
Wheelersburg overcame an early 1-0 deficit to the Sardinia Eastern Warriors’ softball program by plating three runs in the bottom half of the first inning of action, and the Lady Pirates got a complete game seven-hitter from Sarah Claxon in the circle — with Claxon only allowing four hits after the first inning of play — en route to a 6-1 victory over Eastern Brown on Wednesday.
For Teresa Ruby, the poise that the young Lady Pirates showed in overcoming yet another early deficit was simply due in large part to the preparation that each of the members of the roster have taken on throughout the year.
“It’s a testament to the kids and the work that they’ve put in,” Ruby said. “We’re glad to be here.”
After a game-opening strikeout by Claxon, three consecutive singles by the Lady Warriors allowed Eastern Brown to take a 1-0 lead after an inning of action. However, the junior buckled down, and after a sacrifice bunt put two Lady Warriors’ runners in scoring position, induced a line out and a pop out, respectively, to get out of the frame unscathed.
With the aforementioned situation in play, Wheelersburg wasted little time striking as a pop up was dropped, which allowed Risner to score. Claxon then shot a single into left field to score Sturgill, and an error allowed Addi Collins to come across as well as the Lady Pirates took a 3-1 advantage after an inning of play.
“The girls have done that all year,” Ruby said. “They’ve responded when they’ve been pushed. I feel like that’s what we did today. We got pushed early, and we responded. I felt like we were waiting for them to push again, and we just went through the motions for a few innings. I’ll credit that to youth. I just told them after the game, ‘We’ve got to learn to finish. We’ve got to be able to maintain that focus and finish.’ Still, I was very happy with the way that we responded. We didn’t panic and came back strong. I like that.”
Risner, however, was just getting started. After a leadoff single by Mia Darnell got the Lady Pirates off and running in the second frame, Risner followed by laying down a bunt en route to reaching base herself as Wheelersburg put runners on first and second with nobody out. An error and wild pitch then scored the duo, respectively, as the Lady Pirates increased its margin to a 5-1 tally.
In addition to her 2-for-4 day at the dish with a double and two runs scored, Risner led a defense that didn’t commit a single error on the day, and an outfield that — with Taylor Fannin and Mallory Bergan flanking her — was as solid as a rock on Wednesday.
“Christen has been a leader for us all year,” Ruby said. “She’s been playing lights-out on defense, and when she’s hot at the top of the order, it makes a lot of things happen for us.”
From there, Claxon took control. In addition to only allowing four hits after the first inning of play, the co-ace of the Lady Pirates’ pitching staff struck out four and didn’t walk a single batter en route to the victory. Another Eastern Brown error in the fifth frame allowed the Lady Pirates to add another run en route to finalizing the score.
“Coming in, we felt like we needed to give Sarah the ball,” Ruby said. “She’s been here in postseason play and she’s seen it before, and she responded well. In the first inning, they (Eastern Brown) had a few shots, and left some people on base to where it could’ve been worse than what it was, so I was happy that we were able to get out of that inning with just one run. Then Sarah settled in. We had some nice plays in the outfield on some balls that they drove, so defensively, I felt really good about the way that we played today.”
With the victory, Wheelersburg will play Coal Grove, who defeated Chillicothe Huntington (Huntington Ross), 6-1, in the second Division III, Chillicothe I District Semifinal. Both units will play at 11 a.m. on Saturday afternoon for the right to advance to the Division III, Region 11 Semifinals in Lancaster, which will be held next Wednesday.
“Huntington Ross and Coal Grove are quality teams,” Ruby said before the beginning of the second semifinal. “I know that both teams have quality pitchers, so we’ll need to make sure that offensively, we’re on point on Saturday. We’re going to stay and see who wins this game, but either way, we’re going to have a tough opponent.”