CHILLICOTHE — Thursday’s contest between Wheelersburg and Tuscarawas Valley in a Division III regional semifinal was back and forth… until it wasn’t.
By scoring the game’s last eight runs and holding the Trojans scoreless from the fourth inning on, the Lady Pirates — the Southeast District’s No. 1-seed entering postseason play — moved one win away from a trip to the OHSAA Softball State Tournament.
Wheelersburg (25-1) had to wait an extra 24 hours to secure their 13-6 win over Tusky Valley and spot in Saturday’s regional final after the originally scheduled slate of games at Unioto High School were postponed from Wednesday due to rain.
You could say the wait was worth the trouble, whatever trouble it even caused.
Lady Pirates coach Teresa Ruby and her team held practice on Wednesday to further prepare for the regional semi, something that seemingly paid off as shown by their 7-run victory.
“We got word that it was raining here. When we got the call that it was rained out, we just went and practiced and got in a full practice,” Ruby said, of dealing with the postponement. “It worked out fine and stayed on our routine and on path.”
For the third time this season, Wheelersburg’s lineup produced five home runs — two each by sophomore Macee Eaton and freshman AndiJo Howard and one by senior Rylie Hughes.
This signature feat also occurred in a road trip to Oak Hill on April 26 and in a home win over Waverly on May 3 in the regular season.
Hughes’ 2-run homer sparked the home run fest, giving the Lady Pirates a 4-2 lead in the top of the second. Eaton then went deep for the second of two back-to-back shots in their three-run second.
Eaton had a game-best 6 RBI, driving in freshman Haley Myers for the game’s first run in the first and scoring later in the frame on a wild pitch to give ‘Burg a 2-0 lead early.
Ruby said afterwards that her team’s patience at the plate when their opponent’s pitching was giving them off-speed looks was greatly responsible for their success in totaling 11 hits — four by Eaton, three by Howard, two by Hughes, and one each by Myers and senior leadoff Boo Sturgill.
“We’ve seen the off-speed stuff, people try to keep us off balance and it’s something we prepare for. It’s nice to see where we have some better quality at bats where we’re not lunging,” Ruby said. “Recognizing pitches, waiting on them, and then driving it.”
Tusky Valley took their first lead of the game after a 4-run third inning that included the go-ahead two RBI single by Elly Rothenstein.
Instead of panicking, Wheelersburg kept up their pace at the plate by posting eight runs in the game’s final four innings.
A leadoff walk by Myers and single by Hughes proceeded Eaton’s second home run — a three-run shot that put the Lady Pirates back ahead 8-6.
Sydney Skiver drew one of her three walks in the fourth and scored on a Howard two-run homer that kept Wheelersburg in front 10-6 with no outs in the inning.
In their district final win over Union Local, Tusky Valley overcame a 7-run deficit by scoring the game’s last 10 runs for a 14-10 win and chance to face Wheelersburg.
That was something Ruby and her coaching staff were aware of entering Thursday’s game and was a point of emphasis in their preparation — not letting up despite the score until the final out was recorded.
Howard and the Lady Pirates’ defense held the Lady Trojans scoreless AND hitless in their final four half innings at the plate, ensuring that a possible comeback attempt would be for naught.
“We had seen them play a couple of times, knew they were going to put the ball in play and that we’d have to hit with them,” Ruby said. “Every inning we wanted to keep building because we knew they weren’t going to let up.”
Howard had a solo home run in the sixth — her second of two for the game and the Lady Pirates’ fifth as a team to put them in front 11-6.
In the seventh, ‘Burg added a run when Sturgill singled and scored on a passed ball. Myers then reached via E6 and was drove in as the final of Eaton’s 6RBI.
The Lady Pirates then held Tusky Valley to a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh for the third time in the game, punching their ticket to the “Elite 8” and regional final versus fellow Southern Ohio program Ironton.
The Lady Tigers were outright champions in the Ohio Valley Conference, defeating Westfall 2-0 in Thursday’s first game at Unioto with junior pitcher Keegan Moore striking out 18 Last Mustangs in the complete game semi win.
Ruby says that her team’s recipe for success in pursuit of the program’s first regional championship since 2017 will be much of the same things that have gotten them to this point — patience at the plate, solid defense, and their own ace delivering on the mound.
“Making sure we hit pitches in the zone and don’t chase — we’re going to have to recognize pitches again. It’s a quick transition and we’ve got one day to really work on it. We want to make her (Moore) work in the zone and give us pitches we have a chance to hit. We’re going to have to play solid defense and (Andi)Jo’s (Howard) gonna have to be on her game in the middle.”
First pitch between Wheelersburg and Ironton is set for 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 29 at Unioto High School.
Wheelersburg: 2 3 0 5 0 1 2 — 13 11 1
Tuscarawas Valley: 2 0 4 0 0 0 0 — 6 5 0
W: AndiJo Howard (W), L: Rohr (TV)
Boo Sturgill 1-5
Haley Myers 1-3, 2BB, 2R
Rylie Hughes 2-3, HR, 2RBI, 2R, 2BB
Macee Eaton 4-5, 2HR, 2B, 6RBI, 3R
Sydney Skiver 0-1, 3BB, R
AndiJo Howard 3-3, 2HR, 3RBI
Kiera Kennard 0-3, BB
Tusky Valley hitting
K. Rohr 2-2, HR, 2R, RBI
K. Stutz 2-4, 2R, 3B
B. Albaugh 1-2, RBI, R, BB
K. Selinsky 0-3, R, BB
S. Thompson 0-3, RBI
E. Rothenstein 1-3, 2RBI
K. Russell 0-2, BB
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved