CHILLICOTHE — Wheelersburg softball saw three trips to the Division III state tournament, the program’s first state championship, and the state of Ohio’s first-ever Little League World Series Championship softball team in a short span from 2015-18.
This year’s group of Lady Pirates is writing another chapter in their program’s history book, becoming the first ‘Burg softball team to reach the Final Four since 2017 with their 9-1 drumming of Ironton in a regional final at Unioto High School.
It’s the first regional softball crown for any member of the team coming out of the SOC-OVC regional final, but you wouldn’t have thought that the way they played on Saturday.
‘Burg jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second on an RBI bunt single by junior catcher Brynley Preston and a two RBI double to the wall by freshman Haley Myers.
Another run scored in the third when freshman AndiJo Howard singled in Macee Eaton to make it 4-0 Lady Pirates in the home-half of the third.
Wheelersburg never trailed Ironton and played cool and in control, even when the Lady Tigers scored their run only on an RBI single by Emily Weber and had the bases loaded in the top of the fourth.
A 1-3 groundout ended Ironton’s scoring threat in the fourth and helped the Lady Pirates set-up their knockout punch.
“Being able to control your emotions is big, and to just execute our gameplan to pretty much perfection,” Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby said, afterwards. “We didn’t want to chase pitches and I don’t know that we did. We wanted to put the ball in play and we hit the ball solid all game, kept the pressure on them and made them have to execute.”
Sophomore Kiera Kennard had a double-turned-run in the fifth for ‘Burg’s next score, making it 5-1 by using her heady base-running skills to take advantage of an Ironton error and missed tagged.
A leadoff double by freshman Rileigh Lang got the Lady Pirates going in their final round of bats followed by a scoring double by senior Boo Sturgill.
A single by Myers proceeded a two RBI double by Eaton which made it 8-1 with one out in the sixth. Sydney Skiver drove in Eaton for the game’s final run on an RBI single.
Lady Pirate freshmen and sophomores, some of which also played key roles for the 2018 LLWS championship team, accounted for 10 of Wheelersburg’s 14 hits and six of their eight RBI in their 8-run win over the Lady Tigers.
Get used to their names if you haven’t already, because they and their teammate’s impact on the diamond has continued the Wheelersburg program’s success into this year’s unit — one that needs only two more wins for their second state title.
“There’s several of those kids that were on the LLWS team, so they’re used to playing on a big stage. Play some high-level travel ball. They have a sense of being used to it, it’s still different for them and it’s a different trip,” Ruby said. “They’ve stepped up all season for us — they’ve not played like freshmen or COVID freshmen. That is what we saw in the 2016 title team, on any given day anybody can be the player.”
The Lady Pirates’ defense and glove work was also on display on Saturday with a catch at the wall by junior left fielder Lyndsay Heimbach, several 6-3 and 4-3 put-outs by Myers and Sturgill to Eaton, and nine strikeouts by Howard on the mound were among the notable efforts.
Ironton collected only four hits over the course of the seven inning affair, three and half times less than that of ‘Burg’s bats.
Each aspect of their defense, pitching, and quality at-bats are things that Ruby hopes to see her state-bound team carry in their trip to Akron next weekend.
Wheelersburg will face fellow regional champion Sherwood Fairview in a Division III state semifinal at Akron Firestone Stadium on Friday, June 4 at 12:30 p.m.
“We can’t worry about the other team, we’ve got to take care of what we do. We’ve got to focus on who we are — we think it’s a winning formula,” Ruby said. “We want to play solid defense, don’t open the door for them, solid pitching, and each at-bat let’s make it the best we can.”
It’s the first trip for any of their players to Firestone Stadium as a high school player, but of course won’t be their coaching staff’s first time making the trip toward the Rubber Capital of the World for the state tournament.
As state champions in 2016 and regional champs in 2015 and 2017, Ruby feels confident in her staff’s ability to prepare her team for another big stage.
“As coaches, I think we know what to expect and we can talk to the kids and start to get them prepared,” Ruby said. “That certainly helps us as we get them ready as best we can.”
Ironton: 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 — 1 4 1
Wheelersburg: 0 3 1 0 1 4 X — 9 14 2
W: AndiJo Howard (Wheelersburg), L: Keegan Moore (Ironton)
Boo Sturgill 2-3, RBI, 2R, BB
Haley Myers 2-4, 2RBI, 2B, R
Rylie Hughes 1-4
Macee Eaton 2-3, 2RBI, 2R, BB, 2B
Sydney Skiver 1-4, RBI
AndiJo Howard 2-3, RBI, 2 2B
Kiera Kennard 1-3, 2B, R
Brynley Preston 1-3, RBI
Rileigh Lang 2-3, R
K. Richendollar 0-1, 2BB, R
K. Martin 2-3
Erica Weber 2-3, RBI
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved