Portland, Or – When Wheelersburg LL softball coach Dusty Salyers announced that his team was not finished after winning the Central region tournament, he meant business. “We’re not done yet, we’ve got one more tournament. We’re going to go out there not just to play, but to win it,” Salyers said as he addressed the hundreds of people in attendance at the team’s welcoming parade almost two weeks ago. Wheelersburg LL won their semifinal matchup over Eastbank LL 5-1, punching their ticket to the 2018 Little League Softball World Series title game Wednesday night.
The crowd for Tuesday night’s semifinal matchup was raucous, to say the least. The cheers for both teams were heard loud and clear over the ESPN airwaves, showcasing the support that each team had behind them.
AndiJo Howard started in Burg’s semifinal matchup against Eastbank LL and was once again anything short of dominant. Howard finished the game with six innings pitched, five strikeouts, seven hits allowed, and only one earned run.
The game’s first run was scored thanks to a shot hit into the left center gap by Louisiana’s Kira Manganello. Although the play scored a run for Eastbank, Burg’s Rileigh Lang was determined not to see another run score. Lang delivered an incredible throw from her position against the left field wall, all the way to third base where Sydney Skiver placed a tag on Manganello that needed to be verified on replay to ensure it was in fact an out. The Lang to Skiver connection was such a outstanding play, ESPN announcers claimed it was Sportscenter Top 10 worthy.
A clutch two out double to right field by Jaelin Thomas in the top of the second inning advanced Maddi Kotcamp to third base, but Wheelersburg was unable to drive in the tying run in that half inning.
Their first run did come in the top of the third inning, however, as a picture perfect bunt laid down by Sydney Salyers brought home Catie Boggs after Boggs and Rileigh Lang had reached base safely earlier that inning. Maddi Kotcamp, just as she has all postseason, provided another clutch AB for Burg by driving in Lang from third base with a fly out to right field. This gave Wheelersburg LL the 2-1 lead after 2.5 innings. Salyers also provided defensive relief for Burg in the bottom of third with an inning ending 4-3 double play.
Burg scored their third run of the game in the top of the fourth inning after Ashlee Spence drove in Haley Myers from third base on a ground ball fielder’s choice to the second baseman, giving them the 3-1 lead over Eastbank LL.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Eastbank LL posed a serious threat to Wheelersburg with runners on second and third with no outs. In the game’s third outstanding defensive play from Burg, AndiJo Howard fielded a ground ball, checked off the runner at third base and proceeded to get the out at first base. First baseman Jaelin Thomas then relayed a throw home where catcher Maddi Kotcamp tagged out Eastbank LL pitcher Lauren Mounce on her attempt to steal a run from Wheelersburg. The double play was followed by a groundout that ended the threat from Eastbank and the inning and held the Wheelersburg lead firm at 3-1.
The top of the fifth inning brought home another Wheelersburg run after a throw to first base on the attempted double play went wide of the first baseman, allowing Sydney Salyers to score and extending the Wheelersburg lead to 4-1. The score wouldn’t remain that way for long, as AndiJo Howard delivered a shot over the head of the third baseman, driving home Maddi Kotcamp from second base and extending the score 5-1 in favor of Burg. Eastbank posed a threat in their final half inning, but ultimately fell short in their efforts.
Wheelersburg is hoping to make history Wednesday night and become the first local team to win the Little League Softball World Series. Tomorrow night’s championship game will be shown live on ESPN at 10 p.m. EST due to the difference in time zones. You may check our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT for live updates on tomorrow night’s championship game.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @JacobSmithPDT