WEST PORTSMOUTH — Something is in the water in Wheelersburg.
Whether it’s a clutch at-bat, a clutch pitch, or a clutch defensive play in the field, it just seems like the units that the community puts together always find a way to emerge victorious.
And on Saturday afternoon, the Wheelersburg 11-12 year-old softball All-Stars came up big in the clutch to continue the winning tradition of their community alive in grand fashion.
With AndiJo Howard putting in ultimate work on the mound — as evidenced by a masterful two-hitter that came via an 11-strikeout performance — the 11-12s were able to dovetail the efforts of their outstanding pitching hand with a run of their own as a leadoff walk in the bottom of the sixth by Sydney Skiver, a double by Maddi Kotcamp, and an intentional walk to Haley Myers set the table for Catie Boggs — who came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs — to come through as the possible hero.
Not phased by the pressure that awaited her in the biggest at-bat of her softball life, Boggs, on a 3-1 count, patiently took ball four high and away to score Emma Smith, who courtesy ran for Skiver, as the Lady Pirates took home a 1-0 victory over the Tallmadge 11-12 All-Stars on Saturday afternoon in the Ohio 12U Softball State Tournament’s Opening Round at Doc Singleton Park in West Portsmouth.
While the finish was of hectic proportions, and certainly one that was of the exciting variety, it didn’t come as a surprise to Dusty Salyers or many of the fans in attendance who have followed both teams for years now.
“That was what we expected with Tallmadge,” Salyers said, his expression indicating satisfaction with how the game was played both ways. “We’ve seen them a lot, and that’s what they do. They don’t make mistakes and they pitch to contact. They’re not overpowering, but they move the ball around well in and out and change speeds. You’ve got to legitimately get base hits to score on them. I can’t say enough about our girls. We fought and dug deep. It was a total team effort to come up with the win.”
The same exact qualities, however, could be said about Wheelersburg.
Throughout the course of the six-inning affair, the 11-12s didn’t give up a single legitimate base hit as the two hits that Howard gave up were on well-placed bunt singles by Sydney Becks in the top of the third frame and Emma Garbinsky in the top half of the fourth frame.
Otherwise, Howard, who had seven strikeouts through four innings of work, proved to be untouchable as the standout southpaw capped off her pitching appearance by striking out the side in order in the sixth frame of action to keep the score locked at a 0-0 tie.
“That’s one of the best games that she’s thrown, if not the best game that she’s thrown this year,” Salyers said of Howard. “It’s the state tournament and that’s the way that it should be. The bigger the stage, the better she plays. What can you say? She’s awesome.”
And even on the two recorded hits by Tallmadge, Wheelersburg never flinched. When Becks reached to begin the third inning, the third baseman, who attempted to steal second base, was gunned down on a fantastic throw by Maddie Kotcamp, who made the throw look as if it was all in another day’s work. The Lady Pirates didn’t commit a single error in eight defensive chances.
Tallmadge’s defense, however, also proved to be very stout. In the fourth inning of play, a leadoff walk by Skiver was followed by a bloop single from Howard that landed inside the third base line, and when Skiver beat out the ensuing throw to third base, Howard glided into second base standing up. An fielding error in the infield allowed the Lady Pirates to load the bases with nobody out.
However, in a display of incredible poise, the Lady Devils rose to the tough challenge ahead of it. Haley Myers launched a well-hit fly ball to center field for what seemingly looked to be a sure sacrifice fly, but a strong throw home by Lauren Teeling forced Skiver to stop and scamper back to the third base bag. An excellent backhanded play by Ashlyn Severns at second base and a well-fielded 1-3 putout by Mia Zappola — who only allowed five hits herself — kept Wheelersburg from tacking on a single run as both teams remained at a 0-0 deadlock after four innings of work.
“The defense for 11 and 12-year old girls is unbelievable between both of these teams,” Salyers said. “It was a fun game. The atmosphere was great. It was a great way to start off the state tournament, for sure.”
Howard’s pitching performance, however, would allow the ‘Burg 11-12s to garner another chance at striking the scoreboard. Not surprisingly, Skiver, who again led Wheelersburg offensively by going 1-for-1 with two walks at the plate, walked to lead off the bottom half of the frame, and Smith, who came in to courtesy run for Skiver, was moved into scoring position by Howard on a sacrifice bunt to the third base side.
“I told Sydney, ‘Find a way to get on. If you get on, we’ll win this game,’” Salyers said. “She did. She’s disciplined at the plate and got on to start the inning. That was huge.”
When a double by Kotcamp put the standout catcher on second and Smith at third base, Tallmadge, knowing that they needed an opportunity to have a force at any base, walked Myers intentionally to load the bases. Thomas nearly made the Lady Devils pay dearly for that idea as the sound first baseman lined a well-hit shot to right field on a 3-1 count, but Ella Bee, who saw the ball from the moment it left Thomas’ bat, tracked it down in right to put Boggs in a tough spot. The multi-sport student-athlete, however, didn’t flinch under pressure, and on a similar 3-1 count, drew the base on ball that would drive Smith in for the game-winning run.
“Caitie and Emma are the two babies of the team,” Salyers said regarding their age. “We had Emma on third, who scored the winning run, and Boggs at the plate. What can you say about our two youngest players, in the biggest moment of their softball career, coming through?”
With the victory, Wheelersburg will play Canfield in the winner’s bracket of the Little League Major Division State Softball Tournament. The winner of the contest, which will be played at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, moves to Monday’s championship round, while the loser will have to play again at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon in what will serve as a go-or-go-home contest.
“This was huge for us,” Salyers said. “It’s one of the most important games of the entire tournament, because you’re staying in the winner’s bracket. I’m pleased.”
SCHEDULE for Ohio Little League Major Division (12U) State Softball Tournament (Double Elimination Tournament):
Game 1, 11 a.m. — Canfield 14, Kingsville 0
Game 2, 1 p.m. — Wheelersburg 1, Tallmadge 0
Game 3, 11 a.m. — Wheelersburg vs. Canfield
Game 4, 1 p.m. — Tallmadge vs. Kingsville
Game 5, 3 p.m. — Loser of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4
Game 6, 10 a.m. — Championship Game (Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 5)
Game 7, if necessary, 12 p.m. (only if Winner of Game 5 defeats Winner of Game 3 in first title battle)*