CHILLICOTHE — In this season’s two previous meetings between Wheelersburg and Minford, both games were decided by a combined four runs … 2-1 and 6-3 wins for the Pirates.
So, coming into Thursday’s Division III district semifinal at Unioto High School, Minford certainly felt like it had a chance to knock off the top-seeded Pirates.
The Falcons had already shown they could play right with Wheelersburg and, after all, at any level, the old adage proclaims it’s hard to beat the same team three times in one season.
But Teresa Ruby and her Pirates didn’t get that memo.
Instead, they ran away with a 13-3, six-inning victory over Minford and advanced to Saturday’s Division III district final — marking the sixth straight year the program has played at that level.
“We go up 5-0 and [Minford] comes back at us and it’s 5-3. We came back the very next inning and came right back at them,” Ruby said. “That’s maturity. We went to regionals last year, got in a close game and we folded. I didn’t want to see that this year. So it’s been fun to watch. We’ve got some talent but we’re also starting to buy in to “us” and our “team.” I like our chemistry.”
The Pirates (21-2) wasted no time getting on the board. In the bottom of the first inning, Wheelersburg put a five-spot up. That was spearheaded by a two-run single from Rylie Hughes, an RBI double from Bella Williams, a passed ball and an error in the field.
Before Minford had the chance to blink, the Falcons found themselves in a 5-0 hole. But as Ruby alluded to, Minford (16-9) didn’t just lay down and die.
After Emily Shoemaker hit a solo home run in the top of the third, Megan Johnson knocked in a run with an RBI double in the fourth, cutting the lead to 5-2. The next batter, Maddie Slusher, then cut the lead to two runs with an RBI single.
With two runners on and no outs, Ruby made a pitching change and called Sydney Spence into the circle. The junior flamethrower took things into her own hands from there.
“Syd came in with momentum definitely in [Minford’s] corner and did well,” Ruby said. “We’ve been working hard this week and she’s been battling through some things, so it was great to see her be so sharp. She also had a big at-bat later and got a couple of RBIs. It was good for us.”
Spence halted the Falcons’ scoring threat and proceeded to throw three innings of one-hit softball. Her defense played well behind her while Minford couldn’t figured her out.
Meanwhile, the Pirates’ offense continued to click.
Thanks to two errors and a two-run single from Spence, Wheelersburg extended its lead to 9-3 in the fourth before scoring two in the fifth and two in the sixth to seal the deal.
In total, the Falcons made four pitching changes and no matter who they had in the circle, the Pirates seemed to see beach balls at the dish.
“We faced [Minford] twice and in both games, [Falcons coach Art Doll] rotated pitchers,” Ruby said. “So this week, that’s what we did. We just rotated pitching and had the girls hit several different speeds in practice. We worked on that all week and it showed.”
Minford’s offense was led by Johnson, who finished 2-for-3 with an RBI while Shoemaker went 1-for-3 with the homer, behind Slusher who was 1-for-3 with an RBI.
Hughes was 1-for-2 with a double, a run and three RBIs, Spence was 1-for-2 with two RBIs, and Williams finished 1-for-3 with a double, a run and an RBI.
However, offensively, nobody was better than Wheelersburg’s Christen Risner. The senior leadoff hitter ended the day 5-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and two RBIs.
“[Risner] is a senior and she has just been tremendous for us this season,” Ruby said. “She’s solid in the outfield and she covers a lot of ground. She’s rock solid and she shows up every day, works hard … everything you’d want in a senior, she’s got it.”
The Pirates advance to take on Fairfield at 1 p.m., Saturday at Unioto in a Division III district championship. The Lions were 4-3 winners over Wellston in eight innings, Thursday evening.
“Learning how to win is one thing and it’s a big thing. I don’t think you can understate what it is to know that you’ve been here and that you’ve done it,” Ruby said. “That’s a big part of it. We know we got a tough draw. We saw Leesburg play and they’re very well-coached and very fundamental. Today, we had some mental and physical mistakes. We can’t afford those.”
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