In the final version of the OHSFSCA Poll, the softball programs at Wheelersburg and Clay, as they had in prior weeks, maintained their second and eighth place standings in the Division III and Division IV Polls, respectively, with the Lady Pirates staying right on the heels of Warren Champion in the process of solidifying its top-five ranking and Clay adding in 32 points of its own to clinch a top-10 position in the rankings.
Wheelersburg, who kept its No. 2 position in the Division III order behind Warren Champion — who is the defending state champion in the division — collected 84 points and a first-place vote, second only to Warren Champion’s 98 points and seven first place votes en route to entering regional play with its 24-0 overall mark.
Despite the overhaul that the roster underwent from last year to this season, the Lady Pirates finished with an unblemished 14-0 mark in SOC II action by obtaining victories of 3-2 and 12-0 over Waverly and a 7-1 victory over Valley en route to winning its fifth consecutive SOC II Championship in outright fashion. Wheelersburg also holds a mercy-rule defeat over a well-respected Vanceburg (Ky.) Lewis County club, a 17-2 victory over Ashland (Ky.) in its final regular season affair, two come-from-behind victories over Hilliard Darby and Columbus Bishop Ready, and a very impressive 3-0 victory over Harrodsburg (Ky.) Mercer County in a contest that was held as part of the Tri-State Showcase in Russell, Ky.
In its latest playoff push, the Lady Pirates added a 15-5 mercy rule victory in six innings over Wellston to take home yet another Division III Sectional Championship, then defeated Eastern Brown and Coal Grove by 6-1 and 10-4 tallies in the Division III, Chillicothe I District realm en route to advancing to Division III, Region 11 play for the fifth time in as many years under Teresa Ruby.
Christen Risner proved to be the spark plug for Wheelersburg with five hits, two doubles, two RBI, two stolen bases, and five runs scored during district play, while Sarah Claxon and Mia Darnell each obtained three hits apiece, combined for three RBI, and scored four runs on their own en route to leading the Lady Pirates to another regional tournament berth.
Boo Sturgill and Addi Collins have been sensational as first-year starters in the middle of the order, while Claxon and Sydney Spence have provided Wheelersburg with a formidable one-two punch as far as its pitching rotation is concerned. Taylor Fannin is another strong lynchpin at the top of the order while Bella Williams and Laney Eller have helped make the bottom of the order as lethal as they come in 2018.
Wheelersburg will play Lore City Buckeye Trail on Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. in a Division III, Region 11 Semifinal at Lancaster High School. The winner gets Meadowbrook or Leesburg Fairfield in Saturday’s regional final, which will commence at 12 p.m.
Clay, who sports a 24-5 overall record, maintained its No. 8 position in the Division IV realm by winning the Division IV, Rio Grande I District Championship with relative ease as the Lady Panthers defeated Belpre, 8-0 and Peebles, 9-2, en route to obtaining its second consecutive Division IV, Region 15 appearance.
Clay, who finished SOC I action with a 13-1 overall mark, won their second of two battles against Notre Dame, 8-2, to sew up its third consecutive outright SOC I crown. Of their 24 victories, 11 have come by mercy rule margins, and the Lady Panthers also own victories over Division II Jackson (14-11) and Division III opponents West (10-3), Piketon (14-3) and Northwest (10-0 and 15-4) this season.
Jason Gearheart’s unit is led by a strong order from top to bottom, which features as much speed as it does power. Leadoff hitter Shaelyn Vassar, slap-hitter Lila Brown, and Kat Cochran are excellent contact hitters and strong on the basepaths, while Jensen Warnock, Cassidy Wells, Julia Swain, Hannah Oliver, and Megan Bazler can all hit for power. Elisa Collins and Chloi Hayslip are two additional strong batting hands and fielding arms in the order, while Shaley Munion, MeKenzie Loper, Sophia Gatti, Abbie Ware, and Hailey Wiltshire hold promise at the plate and on the basepaths as well. Wheelersburg transfer Ryanna Bobst only adds to a unit that is as deep and talented as any around.
In the circle, Julia Swain, who threw a no-hitter against Green, has been dominating, as has Hannah Oliver, who comprise one of the best pitching duos around the state regardless of class. Oliver, Swain, and Warnock combined for a no-hitter against the Lady ‘Cats in Clay’s second meeting with Green, while Swain had a no-hitter going into the seventh and final frame in Clay’s 8-2 win over Notre Dame on April 30. The Lady Panthers have outscored their Division IV brethren by a massive 198-17 count en route to winning 18 of their 19 games against divisional foes in 2018 to date.
Clay will play Strasburg-Franklin on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Lancaster, and, with a victory, will advance to the Division IV, Region 15 Finals on Saturday at 12 p.m., where the winner of either Danville or Valley awaits.
Division III, Region 11 Semifinals
No. 2 Wheelersburg vs. Lore City Buckeye Trail — Wednesday, 6 p.m., Lancaster HS; winner plays either Meadowbrook or Leesburg Fairfield on Saturday at Lancaster HS with a 12 p.m. start
Division IV, Region 15 Semifinals
Valley vs. Danville — Wednesday, 2 p.m., Pickerington Central HS
No. 8 Clay vs. No. 5 Strasburg-Franklin — Wednesday, 5 p.m., Pickerington Central HS
Winners play each other on Saturday, 12 p.m., Pickerington Central HS
Division III, Region 11 Semifinals
No. 12 Minford (22-2) vs. Valley (18-11), 5 p.m., VA Memorial Stadium; winner plays either West Lafayette Ridgewood (19-10) or Fredericktown (17-7) on Friday at Ohio State University (Bill Davis Stadium).
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT