LANCASTER — When two-thirds of an entire starting unit is truly going through the fire of everyday varsity competition for the first time, it can be rendered tough for said program to be competitive, especially after losing two athletes to NCAA Division I programs and a third to an NCAA Division II unit off of a team that went to the state title game one season ago and won the state title two seasons ago.
However, the 2018 version of the Wheelersburg Pirates’ softball program was not only competitive, but a unit that proved to be, once again, the most feared of any of its Southeast District competition regardless of division, as evidenced by its amazing 24-0 overall mark heading into Wednesday evening’s Division III, Region 11 Semifinal against Lore City Buckeye Trail.
And after battling back from an early 2-0 deficit after an inning of play, it looked as if Teresa Ruby’s program was going to continue the magic as a fifth-inning RBI single by Taylor Fannin allowed the Lady Pirates to rally back and take a 3-2 lead after the early 2-0 deficit.
However, Hannah Smith’s seventh-inning solo shot in the seventh inning, along with an eighth-inning shot by Brooke Colvin, put away the relentless and never-say-die attitude of Wheelersburg on Wednesday as the Lady Pirates fell by a 4-3 tally in eight innings to the Lady Warriors at Lancaster High School in another thrilling softball affair on Wednesday evening.
After a one-out solo home run by Jenni Carmichael, along with a double via Randi Leigh-Rippeth that allowed Buckeye Trail to take a 2-0 lead after an inning of play, the Lady Pirates showed off their gritty qualities over the next five frames en route to battling back.
In the bottom of the second inning, Bella Williams’ single and an error allowed both Williams and Laney Eller to reach base, and a second error on a hard-hit grounder by Christen Risner allowed both Williams and Eller to sprint around to tie the score.
Both teams then went down in order from there until the bottom of the fifth frame, when Eller led off said frame with a single. A Mia Darnell sacrifice bunt and a groundout by Risner allowed the multi-sport freshman to move to third, and with two outs on the board, Taylor Fannin battled off two foul pitches en route to shooting a hard-hit groundball back up toward the center of the diamond to score Eller and give the Lady Pirates a 3-2 advantage.
While Fannin eventually was caught trying to steal home, Wheelersburg still maintained its 3-2 advantage and looked prime to advance to the Division III, Region 11 Finals for the fifth season in a row — but Smith answered by leading off the seventh frame with a home run, and in the eighth inning, a one-out solo shot by Colvin gave Buckeye Trail the lead. Fannin, Boo Sturgill, and Addi Collins each went down in order in the bottom of the eighth as Wheelersburg fell by a 4-3 tally to Buckeye Trail.
For the contest, Sydney Spence threw eight innings of six-hit softball while striking out 10 and only allowing three earned runs. Williams (2-for-3, run scored), Fannin (2-for-3, RBI) and Risner (two RBI) led the offense.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT