AKRON — As you read this, by the end of Saturday morning, just know that — unlike the past two Saturdays — we’re not in Akron today.
That means no wake-up alarms at 4:30 a.m.
That means no Friday night overnight stays in Lancaster to cut the drive in half — and a two-and-a-half hour morning motorcade northward to Akron.
That means no GPS taking us off course a bit — for five minutes anyway — in Akron itself en route to Canal Park.
And although Akron appears to be a good city to spend some time in, as I did last Saturday by attending afternoon mass at both beautiful and historic St. Bernard’s Catholic Church, we were wanting a return trip to the Rubber City on those corresponding Sundays as well.
But alas, unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
With Wheelersburg in the Division III softball state semifinals on June 5, followed by Valley in the Division IV baseball state semifinals on June 12, Akron indeed was the destination —and a state championship for both programs was the ultimate goal.
Other similarities included both being sun-splashed stadiums, both bright and early 10 a.m. first pitches, both games going the distance as highly-competitive and not decided until the final out was recorded —and both by high noon, just like that, the great runs by the Pirate softballers and Indian baseballers were over.
But, they definitely had their chances to win.
With Wheelersburg, and its high-powered and highly-touted offense, it scored two runs apiece in each of the opening two innings —as Boo Sturgill smashed an epic two-run home run to left field for a 4-1 Pirates’ lead after one-and-a-half.
But Fairview, which was also 26-1 entering the semifinal, could smack the ball around inside the park —and even outside of it as well —with Anna Ankney’s grand slam to immediately answer Sturgill’s shot and spearhead a 15-hit 10 earned-run effort, and ultimately a 10-8 Apache victory.
Trailing 5-4, the Pirates soon discovered they needed to score right with Fairview —and after allowing six consecutive runs to trail 7-4 following three frames, Wheelersburg was right back in it tied at 7-7 with three more markers in the fifth.
Even after the Apaches put three more runs on the board for their second three-run lead at 10-7, Sydney Skiver sent a Paige Ricica offering unto near where Sturgill hit hers —a solo blast to give the Pirates some last-minute hope, as AndiJo Howard drew a walk with one out and the tying run at the plate with the go-ahead point on deck.
So yes, the Pirates had opportunities.
Fast forward a week later, and away from Firestone Stadium and into Canal Park in downtown Akron, and Valley and Van Wert Lincolnview traded scoreless at-bats for six innings —with a pair of ace pitchers simply dealing with Valley’s George Arnett against Lincolnview star and Ohio State signee Landon Price.
Prior to the seventh, the only Indian movement at the plate occurred in the fourth and sixth, but both times with the leadoff batter getting aboard — Andrew Andronis on a walk in the fourth and Carter Nickel with a single to right in the sixth —that lead runner was eventually erased.
A failed suicide squeeze bunt with Andronis racing home from third resulted in Price throwing to catcher Collin Overholtz for the tag.
And, between that failed suicide squeeze; a fouled-off bunt with two strikes for a strikeout, a 6-4 fielder’s choice and a runner caught stealing second in the sixth and a 1-5 fielder’s choice to erase Hunter Edwards in the seventh, the Indians indeed left a lot of runs out there —despite both teams just stranding one for the entire game.
After Edwards singled home Andronis for the Indians’ ultimately only run, Breckon Williams was left stranded at first for the tying point — with the winning and walkoff run at the plate.
So yes, the Indians had opportunities.
But as we all know, both baseball and softball are games of simply making plays, and the Apaches and Lancers — defensively and/or offensively — made just a play or two more than did the Pirates and Indians.
Indeed, these were in fact close contests separated sometimes by mere inches with no margin for error, although the losses —like the drive from Scioto County all the way to Akron —felt like hundreds of country miles away.
If there are any silver linings in these proverbial clouds, at least both Wheelersburg and Valley sported young clubs at these state semifinals —meaning both will have high chances of repeating as regional champions, and returning to Akron and avenging these defeats in 2022.
For now, though, we’re not in Akron anymore for at least a year — and probably as you’re reading this some of us will be sleeping in and starting a week-long vacation.
And, that means no 4:30 a.m. alarms.
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