WEST PORTSMOUTH — Throughout its history, the West Side — both at the youth and high school levels — have had a tradition of fielding strong softball programs.
If one needs proof of that fact, 10 OHSAA State Final Four appearances — including four in a row from 1986 to 1989 and six in a row from 1998 to 2003 — will certainly prove that West, along with Wheelersburg and Clay, are the leading traditional softball powers in Scioto County.
And as a whole, it looks like the Lady Senators will be returning to that glory sooner rather than later — thanks to a talented crop of youngsters in the nine to 14-year old range.
The West 11U Softball All-Stars, who are one of three teams on the West Side to have qualified for state participation as part of the West Portsmouth American Little League system, proved that former point in spades as West, after falling behind by a 1-0 count after an inning of action, rebounded by scoring a run in the fourth to tie the score, five runs in the fifth inning to take a commanding lead, and two runs in the sixth en route to putting a District 11 Championship Game bout against Fairland away en route to a 9-1 victory over a talented softball club at Boone Coleman Field in West Portsmouth.
As the late scoring suggests, however, the contest didn’t come with ease, according to West 11U head coach Shad Ford.
“It took us a little while to get started there with the bats,” Ford said. “However, we were able to put a couple of bunts down in the fifth inning, get people on base in various ways, and got the key hits that we needed there in the fifth inning to take control of the game. Fairland’s a good ballclub. They came to play tonight.”
That was certainly evident on both sides for the Lady Dragons, as Fairland’s effective baserunning and plate discipline allowed a run to come across on an error and allowed the Lady Dragons to take a 1-0 advantage after an inning of action. West, meanwhile, struggled to get going at first as the Lady Senators went down in order over the first three frames while striking out four times behind Fairland’s play on the defensive end of the diamond.
“I think they were up a little bit more than us,” Ford said. “You’ve got to show up, or a lot of teams can beat you.”
Kyndall Ford, however, proved to be huge for the West Side during the contest with her play inside the circle. Over the first three innings of action alone, Ford recovered from four walks by stranding four baserunners, which prevented Fairland from obtaining a more comfortable advantage. She ultimately gave up just one hit and no earned runs in the contest to allow West to remain in a good position throughout Thursday evening’s affair.
“We’ve got three pitchers that can throw,” Ford said. “If one gets in trouble, we have the depth to back the starter up. Kyndall kind of lost her control some this week, but we pitched her a lot in travel ball (with the Southern Ohio Force) and this week, so we’re going to stick with her. The team believes in her, Kate Rollins and Emily Moore. Those are three good pitchers, and they’re all in one class. That makes it really good. Then, there’s our catcher (Emma Sayre), who does a heck of a job back there (behind the plate) for them, so that makes it nice.”
The contest, however, began to change in a major way when West’s offense, as it circled back around to the top of the order, gained steam in the fourth frame of action.
After Kate Rollins led off the inning with a walk, Emily Moore followed with a single and Ford drew a walk herself to load the bases with nobody out, which allowed Myla Mead to bring in Rollins with two gone in the top of the fourth frame as the Lady Senators tied the score at one apiece.
That inning, however, was just a precursor of what was to come.
In the fifth frame, back-to-back singles by Morgan Stiles and Brooklyn Pitts were followed by an error that scored pinch-runner Shelby Rhea, which gave West the lead, and Moore and Ford made Fairland pay dearly with a two-RBI single and a two-RBI double, respectively, to turn the tightly-contested affair into a runaway.
“The bottom of our lineup got on base for us tonight, and we got the timely hits that were so important,” Ford said. “We settled down. It just took us a long time to get rolling tonight. Still, I’m proud of the girls and the way that they battled. They got it done.”
A one-out sacrifice bunt by Emma Sayre, which scored Ford, rounded out a six-run fifth frame as the West Siders turned a 1-1 deadlock into a commanding 7-1 lead. Two additional runs, which came across in the top half of the sixth inning on an error, allowed the well-versed group to cruise to the district title.
“Seven of these girls play travel ball together, so they have come together,” Ford said when asked about the effectiveness of the team in regards to its chemistry. “They have played a lot of ball this year, and they’re all the same age. We’re just staying together and doing our thing.”
With the contest at its conclusion, both units will advance to the Ohio 11U State Softball Tournament in Tallmadge, which will run from July 28 to August 4. They’ll be the representatives for the District 11 realm.
However, Ford can’t help but see what could be down the road for this group — which is a possible return to the glory days of yesteryear if the same dedication remains.
“Hopefully, this success will help build the West softball program back to what it was in the 90s and early 2000s,” Ford said. “The girls went to state six years in a row at the high school level, so I want the program to get back to that by building up through the youth. The community has been very supportive and we can’t thank them enough for that. Hopefully, we’ve got something going for the future. West has kind of been down over a couple of years, but we’re coming. We’ve just got to be patient.”