WHEELERSBURG — Finding a high-caliber player in the local area and making sure that player stays home, within a month of taking on a new role as a head coach, is quite impressive.
First-year Shawnee State softball head coach Sam White has done just that with the successful recruitment of Rylie Hughes.
The standout third baseman for the perennial powerhouse that is the Wheelersburg Pirates will look to be a key figure in helping SSU move up the Mid-South Conference ladder in the years to come, beginning with the 2022 softball campaign.
For Hughes, the opportunity to play within a 15-minute drive from her home school is an incredible opportunity that she does not take lightly.
“It means a lot for me to be able to stay home, because I will be close to my family and friends, and they will be able to make it to my games,” Hughes said. “I am excited for the opportunity to play under Coach (Sam) White and his staff. I have heard a lot of good things about him, and I am excited to see what he does with the program.”
At Wheelersburg, Hughes proved to be a battering ram throughout her time with the Pirates, batting in the middle of the order in her sophomore and senior seasons.
Wheelersburg went 21-3 in 2019 with a Division III district final appearance and followed that up with an outstanding campaign in 2021, where the Pirates made their first trip to the OHSAA Final Four since making three consecutive appearances at that stage from 2015 thru 2017.
‘Burg ultimately fell in the Final Four to eventual Division III state champion Sherwood Fairview, but lost by a scant 10-8 mark — whereas Canfield South Range, who faced Fairview for the state championship, fell by a 10-0 mercy rule count.
Following the season, Hughes — along with fellow teammate Boo Sturgill — were named to the Division III all-Southeast District team for the second time in as many years.
Sophomore talent Macee Eaton joined them as Wheelersburg’s main trio of hitters all earned first-team accolades for their state run.
Hughes was an Honorable Mention all-state selection in both 2019 and 2021.
“Playing for Wheelersburg was an awesome experience because of the tremendous amount of support from the community and everyone put 110-percent effort into everything that we did,” Hughes said. “Wheelersburg takes great pride in everything that they do, and every single person on our team worked hard to make it to the OHSAA Final Four. Being a part of a program with the work ethic and goals that Wheelersburg has was like no other. Coach (Teresa) Ruby and the rest of the staff pushed us to be our very best and to meet our goals. I made friendships that will last forever at ‘Burg.”
At Shawnee State, Hughes will follow the path of fellow Wheelersburg graduate Brittani Wolfenbarker, whom Hughes was not able to actually play a single game with in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fellow Wheelersburg alum Kalle Coleman just completed her final season at Shawnee State and finished with 10 home runs — one of only three players in program history to post double-digit homers in a single season.
While it’s certainly difficult for any player to reach double-digit homers in any campaign, Hughes’ power slugging — combined with White’s track record in the game — makes such an accomplishment attainable.
“Coach White was very ambitious and energetic about the upcoming season,” Hughes said. “I look forward to playing for him. He is very determined to take the program in the right direction.”
While she certainly wants to accomplish a great deal in the sport of softball, Hughes has greater goals for herself outside of the game.
As a whole, the future nursing major wants to carve out a career as a nurse practitioner after graduating with her bachelor’s degree.
“My plan is to graduate from SSU with my bachelor’s degree in nursing, and then go back to school to become a nurse practitioner,” Hughes said. “Athletically, I want to continue to play another four years because I love the sport. Hopefully, I’ll help my team make a deep tournament run.”
For more on the nursing program at Shawnee State, please visit https://www.shawnee.edu/nursing/pre-licensure-nursing-bachelors-degree-pathway.
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