WEST PORTSMOUTH — At long last, and after two full years and into April in fact, the talented and highly-touted 2021 Wheelersburg Pirates finally made their softball season debut.
However, it was a good Friday on Good Friday for the Pirates —and in more ways than one —it was worth the wait.
With freshman pitcher Andi Jo Howard striking out 13 West Senators, and with Wheelersburg’s bats beginning to connect in the final two innings, the Pirates put together an impressive 15-0 Southern Ohio Conference Division II shutout.
While Wheelersburg was playing its first contest since the Division III district championship tilt of two years ago, the young Senators —which aided the Pirates in the form of committing six errors and resulting in six unearned runs — fell to 2-3 and 0-2 in the SOC II.
West also lost against Waverly in conference competition last week.
But the host Senators and pitcher Sydney McDermott hung right with Wheelersburg for three innings —as the Pirates are an overwhelming preseason favorite for the SOC II championship, and are expected by many observers to make a deep Division III postseason tournament run.
Wheelersburg led 1-0, combining a Haley Myers bunt single sandwiched between two Senator errors and a fielder’s choice — as Howard and Sydney Skiver were hit back-to-back by McDermott pitches.
Skiver collected the RBI to score Myers, and from there, Howard kept the Senators off the scoreboard before the Pirates posted back-to-back seven-run explosions to enforce the 10-run mercy rule.
First things first for Wheelersburg and head coach Teresa Ruby, though, it was great to be playing softball again — even in temperatures which hovered in the mid-40s.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association cancelled the 2020 spring campaign —in response to the coronavirus threat.
“It feels great to finally be back on the field,” said Ruby. “The kids are excited and it gives you a sense of normalcy again. It feels really good.”
Speaking of normal, and good, the Pirates are used to having their way with opponents —and the left-handed Howard is used to dominating opposing hitters.
The freshman has been doing such for a few years now, including as an ace when Wheelersburg won the 2018 Little League World Series.
On Friday, she fanned 13, including for all three outs in the Senators’ first three at-bats —before two more apiece in the fourth and fifth.
She did allow five hits, but the first two by Kate Rollins and Abie Boland back-to-back in the third were soft shots that just barely found the outfield grass down both base lines —before the next two were infield hits by Jordan Hammond and Maelyn Howell.
Rollins, with a single to center in the fifth to follow Howell’s hit, recorded the only truly hard-hit basehit by West.
West had runners on first and second in that inning, and on the corners in the first and third, including in the opening inning when Wheelersburg committed its only error and Howard hit Howell with a pitch.
The Senators’ only other baserunner of 23 total batters was a second-stanza walk by Acie Stone.
“Andi Jo is getting stronger, and is actually building back up some strength from a shoulder injury. She took a lot of time off, and we’ve been seeing with her getting stronger each and every day and having more command with her pitches,” said Ruby. “We like what we’re seeing.”
Ruby then had to like what see saw from the Pirate hitters in the fourth and fifth — following a Boo Sturgill double in the second and a Rylie Hughes single in the third.
Wheelersburg sent 11 batters to the plate in the fourth, and combined three hits, three West errors, two walks and a hit batter for its seven runs.
Skiver led off with a double, Brynley Preston poked a two-run two-bagger, and Myers singled to left.
Sturgill had an RBI-groundout, and Skiver drove in two more runs on West’s third error of the inning.
Finally, in the fifth, Wheelersburg went off for seven more runs on six consecutive hits and the final Senator error —along with a leadoff walk and a Sturgill sacrifice fly.
Myers, Hughes, Howard, Skiver and Rileigh Lang all singled —with Howard and Lang landing runs batted in.
Macee Eaton, the Pirates’ cleanup hitter, hammered a two-run double.
Both coaches commented that Wheelersburg took advantage of the Senators’ mistakes, which took pressure off the powerful Pirate hitters.
The guests also made good on Good Friday without regular standout senior shortstop Laney Eller, who is out at least a week —Ruby said — with an injury.
“We came out very strong and played right with them and even saw some momentum going our way , but we made two critical errors in the first for their first run, just basic execution errors that shouldn’t have happened. Then in the fourth, we compound a couple errors with a couple of their hits, and Teresa (Ruby) is a good coach and is going to have her team try and capitalize on those mistakes,” said West coach Dani Coleman. “We were competing to win, and going into the rest of our games, we have to capitalize on the momentum and make the basic plays in the field.”
“It was our first game, so once we started to relax, the quality of at-bats improved. But another sign of a good team is being able to take advantage of mistakes,” said Ruby. “We’ll take whatever we can get when we can get them. I was happy about that.”
And, happy about her Pirates being back out and playing again.
“We have some work to do and we’ll get better, but getting this first in, Amen to that,” said Ruby.
* * *
Wheelersburg 100 77 —15 11 1
Ports. West 000 00 —0 5 6
Wheelersburg: Andi Jo Howard 5IP, 0R, 0ER, 5H, 1HB, 1BB, 13K, 23BF
West: Sydney McDermott 5IP, 15R, 9ER, 11H, 3HB, 3BB, 5K, 36BF
W — Andi Jo Howard; L — Sydney McDermott
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved