Division III State Softball Tournament
Site: Akron Firestone Stadium
Semifinals: Massillon Tuslaw vs. Casstown Miami East at 3:00 p.m., Wheelersburg vs. Cardington-Lincoln at 5:30 p.m.
Championship: June 4, 7:00 p.m.
WHEELERSBURG — Of the field entering this weekend’s Division III state softball tournament, only one team is making its second straight trip.
The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates — the Region 11 champions currently in the midst of a 21-game winning streak and the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the OHSFSCA (Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association) coaches poll — make their return to Akron Firestone Stadium, needing two wins to secure the program’s second state title.
A season ago, Wheelersburg was making its first return to the D-III state tournament since they were state runner-up in 2017, state champions in 2016, and a state semifinalist the year prior.
Their journey ended in a 10-8 loss to eventual state champion Sherwood Fairview in the state semis, which much like the Lady Pirates had stark offensive firepower.
With this season culminating in a return trip to Akron seeking the ultimate prize, ‘Burg coach Teresa Ruby and her players will tell you that experience is on their side.
“We were really young last year in terms of experience. This year I think we’re still young, but we’ve got experience,” Ruby said. “We know what the stadium looks like, we know what it plays like, we know the schedule. The kids are hungry.”
“Last season I think we went into that game knowing we were going to play good competition, but ultimately we let the emotions get the best of us and we beat ourselves,” senior Lyndsay Heimbach said. “This year, most of our girls are returning and we’ve played at that big of a stage in softball or a different sport.”
“We learned about playing in that big of a stadium, playing under pressure,” senior Brynley Preston said. “It’s built us as a team and we’re ready to go back.”
“We learned by experience, playing against the better teams and being able to see what it takes to win at that level,” senior Hailey Conn said.
Wheelersburg’s opponent, Cardington-Lincoln located in Morrow County, is making its first trip to Firestone Stadium since 2019 — and is seeking its first state title.
Both nicknamed the Pirates, the pair of programs were No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in four of the five OHSFCA coaches polls released during the regular season.
And, ‘Burg and C-L themselves have postseason history.
In the previously mentioned 2017 D-III tournament, the eventual state runner-up Lady Pirates defeated the Cardington-Lincoln Lady Pirates 10-1 in the state semifinals.
“They’ve been making trips to the state tournament for several years,” Ruby said, of C-L. “They’re going to be well-coached, they’re extremely quick especially the top of the lineup. They play a slap-game, slap-bunt and they’ve got a few power hitters in the mix. We’ve talked all year about playing our game so we can’t let them hurry the game up for us.”
Even with how offensively apt Wheelersburg was a season ago, they’ve managed to outdo themselves in 2022.
Entering the state tournament, they’ve outscored their opponents 358-32 — which is 26 more runs scored than they finished with last season — in helping build their 25-1 record.
Those 358 runs is currently 11th-best in OHSAA softball history in a single season, according the organization’s records, with a possible two games remaining in their campaign.
And, with just how impressive ‘Burg’s offense has been, their pitching and defense around the circle have been at the same level.
In their five postseason games to this juncture, the Lady Pirates have outscored opponents 67-3.
Out of their 26 games played over the course of this season, in only five of those has their opponent scored multiple runs.
In fact, the Region 11 final on May 28 was the first time an opponent had scored multiple runs against Wheelersburg in over a month (Wheelersburg defeated West 6-3 on April 27).
“One-through-nine we’re very solid. Not an easy out, by any means,” sophomore Haley Myers said. “Defensively we’re very comfortable, able to talk to each other and have fun.”
“Anytime you can put the ball in play, you’re putting pressure on the other team. Defensively I think we’re about as good as you can get,” Ruby said. “I look around at our team, I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. And you look at the Region 11 final against West, without that defense you probably have a different result.”
When Wheelersburg and Cardington-Lincoln take the field on Friday, they’ll know between Massillon Tuslaw and Casstown Miami East who awaits the winner in Saturday’s state final.
“They’re excited. They’re ready to go now,” Ruby said. “They’re working hard and I think we’ve been doing all the right things. Hopefully we’ll see the results of that on Friday and Saturday.”
Massillon Tuslaw and Casstown Miami East play in the first D-III state semifinal at 3 p.m., while first pitch between Wheelersburg and Cardington-Lincoln is set for 5:30 p.m.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved