AKRON — History repeated itself on Saturday at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
For the second time in program history, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates softball team caputred a Division III state champsionship, defeating Massillon Tuslaw 5-2.
The Lady Pirates completed their 2022 journey with a 27-1 record, out-scoring their opponents 10-4 (both games 5-2 finals) in the state semifinals on Friday and the state title game the next day.
After a 28 game season which saw the Lady Pirates as the No. 1 team in the OHFSCA poll, Wheelersburg completed its season-long goal in Akron and will be bringing back the state championship back to Scioto County and Pirate Country.
“This whole season they’ve played with pressure, target, a lot of social media stuff. They’re played through it,” Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby said, afterwards. “We’ve got three seniors and a lot of juniors, sophomores, and freshman. It’s a maturity that we’ve developed through the season and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The championship game was an early hits and base runners clinic for the Lady Pirates. Their runs came in pairs of two of the first three innings against Tuslaw.
Wheelersburg sent seven batters to the plate in the top of the first — scoring a pair when sophomore AndiJo Howard singled to left field to bring home freshman Catie Boggs and sophomore Haley Myers to give themselves a 2-0 lead.
Boggs was hit-by-pitch in the very first at-bat of the game and Myers followed with her first of two hits.
Myers more than lived up to her nickname “Deuce” in the state tournament by getting two hits and scoring two runs in each game.
Myers got ‘Burg’s offense going in the third, this time with a lead-off single.
Sophomore Sydney Skiver scored Myers a second time with an RBI single to put Wheelersburg ahead 3-0.
“I’m just trying to produce for my team,” Myers said. “I know when I get on base they’re going to have to make a decision whether or not they’re going to pitch to Macee or walk her. Putting that decision up to their coach is iffy.”
“The thing about Deuce is her ball knowledge. You can’t teach a kid that,” Ruby said. “The foul ball where she’s at third base, three people around the ball and no one was covering home. It dropped and she said, ‘I really wanted them to catch it’. Those little things are huge — the things that don’t show up in the scoreboard and people who don’t pay attention don’t notice.”
Junior Macee Eaton, who was intentionally walked in each of her first two at-bats, scored on an RBI sacrifice fly by Rileigh Lang to put the Lady Pirates ahead 4-0 through two and a half innings.
Tuslaw scored their two runs on two hits in the bottom of the fifth. An RBI fielder’s choice bunt by Brandie Cooper that resulted in a ‘Burg error scored Madeline McBride from third. McBride pinch ran for Miriam Peterson who led the inning with a double.
Macaira Fox drove in Cooper with an RBI sacrific fly to cut Wheelersburg’s lead to 4-2 in the fifth.
After a lead-off double by Tuslaw’s Meredith Rankl in the bottom of the sixth, Ruby elected to make a pitching change.
Freshman Kaylynn Carter entered in relief of Howard and closed the door on the Lady Mustangs’ chances.
Rankl’s courtesy runner was stranded at third base as Carter induced a ground-out, earned a strikeout for the second out, and an inning ending 1-3 ground-out kept the score at 4-2.
In the seventh, Carter issued a two-out walk to Brandie Cooper before ending the game with a strikeout of Macaira Fox.
In two innings of work in the circle, Carter allowed no hits and no runs with a pair of strikeouts.
“Early in the tournaments I was out with a hip injury, pretty much went all tournament not pitching. Prepared all tournament as if I was going to go in. Even today, I prepared as if I was going to pitch,” Carter said. “I prepared correctly and I was ready to go out. Going out there and being able to perform, push through that hip injury, it felt great.”
“We kind of felt going into it that we were going to need Kaylynn. They started catching up with Jo and were really squaring the ball up well. We got through an inning when it was iffy. Told her (Carter) to get out there. It was a tight game, I felt like she was our best shot,” Ruby said, of the decision.
Eaton made the most of her final at-bat of her junior season.
Facing a 2-2 count, Eaton drove a solo home run to dead centerfield to give the Lady Pirates a 5-2 lead going into the final half inning.
It was her 20th home run of her junior campaign and came on the biggest stage.
“It was great. I screwed up the inning before,” Eaton said. “Glad to get that run back and help my team.”
“She gets walked a couple of times. Comes up and has both sides totally rooting for her and against her. Her being able to respond throughout this tournament run has been amazing and I think all of her teammates would agree with that,” Ruby said. “Really proud of her.”
In their sixth state tournament appearance and fourth championship game in program history (‘04, ‘16, ‘17, ‘22), the Lady Pirates captured their second state title (‘16, ‘22).
“Really proud of my team. We worked so hard — I couldn’t be prouder,” Eaton said.
““I think this team’s more athletic. I’ll take either one — you can’t pick one over the other. They’re both special in their own way,” Ruby said, of her second state championship.
The three Wheelersburg seniors — Lyndsay Heimbach, Brynley Preston, and Hailey Conn — end their careers at the high school level in the best possible situation: champions.
“Lyndsay Heimbach, she’ll tell you she’s had a long senior year. For her to hit .400, she’s worked her tail off, fought through injury, some health issues. She’s a leader. Brynley behind the plate — some big plays behind the plate. The Portsmouth West game, the caught-stealing yesterday. She’s been rock solid for us. Hailey hasn’t been in the lineup for us, but she’s accepted that role. You have to compliment a kid that’s willing to do that for us especially when they’re a senior,” Ruby said, of her seniors.
Wheelersburg 2 0 2 0 0 0 1 — 5 10 2
Tuslaw 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 — 2 5 0
Catie Boggs 0-3, R
Haley Myers 2-4, 2R
Macee Eaton 1-2, 2R, RBI, HR
AndiJo Howard 2-2, 2RBI
Sydney Skiver 2-4, RBI
Laken Wright 1-3
Lyndsay Heimbach 1-3
Brynley Preston 1-3
Macaira Fox 0-3, RBI
Lillian Bucher 1-3
Meredith Rankl 1-3
Miriam Peterson 1-3
Madeline McBride 0-0, R
Brooklyn Mazzocca 2-3, R
Brandie Cooper 0-1, RBI
AndiJo Howard (W) 5IP, 5H, 1ER, 0BB, 2K (W)
Kaylynn Carter (W) 2IP, 0H, 0ER, 2K (S)
Meredith Rankl (T) 7IP, 10H, 5ER, 2BB, 3K (L)
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