WHEELERSBURG — While Wheelersburg was the winner of its initial Southern Ohio Conference Division II matchup against South Webster, the Pirates played the role of avenger for Friday’s rematch.
How so you ask?
The Pirates did win that meeting 14-10 on a brisk and cool Thursday, but according to Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby, there was way too much to clean up from that win.
“We felt like the first game we played against them was our worst game of the season. We did not play well, we felt like we gave them seven of their 10 runs. We had seven or eight errors. Very uncharacteristic of us,” said the coach. “We wanted to come out today and be focused and represent ourselves the way we feel like we are capable of playing.”
That the Pirates did…and then some.
This time, Wheelersburg was guilty of only one error and acquitted themselves quite well — cranking out a dozen runs on a baker’s dozen 13 hits to cruise past South Webster 12-2 in six innings inside a cloud-covered Gene Bennett Park in Wheelersburg.
With the victory, and combined with South Webster’s 3-1 makeup loss on Saturday at West, the now 18-1 and still league-perfect (13-0) Pirates are once again the outright SOC II champions.
It is the Orange and Black’s six consecutive conference title (also 2015 thru 2019) — as they also captured the SOC II crown in 2004 and 2008.
Perhaps the Pirates’ straight SOC II championships could have been seven, but the 2020 season was unfortunately canceled because of the coronavirus threat.
South Webster’s lone loss —prior to Friday —was that 14-10 decision against Wheelersburg, as the weekend league setbacks dropped the Jeeps to 15-7 and 11-3.
Wheelersburg, with its game against Valley unlikely to be rescheduled, was set to host Eastern in a makeup league doubleheader on Monday.
But first things first Friday, the Pirates played much better against the Jeeps in completing that season sweep — and accomplished their first of multiple lofty team goals.
“This was a big league win for us. Just proud of my kids and I thought they all played well. We were pushed by South Webster the first time, and for them to respond this way, I am really proud of them,” said Ruby.
The Pirates, combining two walks with a wild pitch and the Jeeps’ only error, put up an unearned run in the second inning.
From there, Wheelersburg went off for 12 of its 13 hits —as Rylie Hughes had a first-inning double.
In the third, the Pirates plated two runs on four hits —including Macee Eaton crushing a two-run home run to left field for a 3-0 advantage.
In the fourth, the Pirates opened up a 7-0 edge —with bookend doubles by Rileigh Lang and Andi Jo Howard sandwiched around two more walks, Boo Sturgill scoring on a wild pitch after reaching on a fielder’s choice, and Sydney Skiver singling to center to cross two runs before Howard hit Skiver home with her two-bagger.
Finally, in the sixth, as Wheelersburg went for and made it the 10-run mercy-rule, the Pirates erupted for five final earned runs on five hits —as Sturgill splashed a home run to left field for an 8-2 cushion.
Sturgill’s shot made it homer number 37 for the Pirates as a team —as Eaton, with Friday’s smasher, made it 11 for herself.
The other four hits in the sixth were all singles, as Wheelersburg drew two more walks and Skiver scored Hughes’ pinch-runner Sydney Salyers with a sacrifice fly.
Lyndsay Heimbach, batting in the sixth off the bench, ended the game with a high-arching single that scored Kiera Kennard.
Hughes, Eaton, Howard and Kennard clubbed two hits apiece including an RBI-single by Eaton —and five other Wheelersburg batters (Sturgill, Skiver, Heimbach, Lang and Haley Myers) in the lineup on Friday each finished with one.
Of course, the crowd —which was out in full force on both sides —can point towards Wheelersburg warming up the bats off South Webster southpaw pitcher Gwen Messer.
Messer also walked seven of her 35 batters faced, and hit Lang with a fifth-inning pitch while striking out five.
Eaton’s and Sturgill’s shots sailed into, and landed in, the Gene Bennett Park parking lot.
With the exception of the second-stanza marker, all of the Pirates’ points off Messer were earned.
“Those (home runs) were two nice shots. The first couple of innings through the lineup the first time, we were hyped up and didn’t have good quality at-bats. But we settled in and were able to focus on the change-up and things started to come around,” said Ruby.”
But, what’s really come around for the Pirates is their defense.
Standout senior shortstop Laney Eller is out injured, and so Sturgill and now Myers man the up-the-middle spots.
Against the Jeeps, Myers made two putouts and collected two assists, while Sturgill secured three putouts.
“We’re really starting to come together defensively. We’ve had to replace shortstop with Laney (Eller) being out and we’ve had some other injuries, and we’re just now starting to get a little bit healthy. We’ve got some people that we’ve been able to put into some spots and actually start to work on our defense,” said Ruby. “I thought we played well tonight.”
South Webster also had two baserunning bugaboos —losing lead runners at third in the second and at first in the third, with the former running into a fielder’s choice tag and the latter getting picked off.
Both resulted in the second out of the at-bat.
“We shot ourselves in the foot early with two or three baserunning mistakes. That took away the momentum for sure. Overall, it was a very underwhelming performance by our team. The expectation was there, but we didn’t perform,” said SWHS coach Andy Messer. “I could talk awhile about all the stuff we did wrong from an offensive and defensive standpoint, but it’s too late now. Congratulations to ‘Burg on their win.”
The Jeeps, facing the freshman left-handed hurler Howard, left five runners aboard — one apiece in the final five innings.
They finally broke through in the fifth for two earned runs on three hits, including a Lexie Smith double and back-to-back Bri Claxon and Skylar Zimmerman RBI-singles.
Otherwise, Howard did not walk or hit a Jeep —and struck out nine including for all three outs in the fifth.
She faced four batters apiece in innings three, four and six —after retiring the Jeeps 1-2-3 in the opening at-bat.
The Jeeps’ only other hits were by Bella Claxon with two, and Ashley Spence with a double in the first and Rease Hall with a single in the third.
The Jeeps were set to complete SOC II play at Northwest on Monday and at Waverly on Tuesday, but it was Wheelersburg winning the weekend —and another SOC II championship.
* * *
South Webster 000 020 —2 7 1
Wheelersburg 012 405 —12 13 1
SWHS: Gwen Messer 6IP, 12R, 11ER, 13H, 1HB, 7BB, 5K, 35BF
WHS: Andi Jo Howard 6IP, 2R, 2ER, 7H, 0HB, 0BB, 7K, 25BF
W —Andi Jo Howard; L —Gwen Messer
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved