Pirates’ season ended way it should

By Paul Boggs - [email protected]

AKRON — They say that once might be an accident, but the second time tends to trend.

In this instance, the Wheelersburg High School softball squad spilled out of its dugout, not once but twice, during the seventh inning of its Division III state championship game against Massillon Tuslaw.

And, for more than good reason.

The first: with Wheelersburg leading 4-2 and one out, junior slugger Macee Eaton finally did what most thought —should she get the chance —would do at the state tournament.

After intentional walks times four for Eaton in the two games over two days, Eaton faced a 2-2 pitch from Tuslaw tosser Meridith Rankl.

Everybody inside Akron’s Firestone Stadium took deep breaths on every offering to Eaton, and with one swing of the bat — Pirate fans especially exhaled.

Eaton sent a solid shot straight over the centerfield fence for a solo home run and a 5-2 Pirate lead —the final run of the entire state tournament, and arguably the tournament’s hardest-hit ball.

Indeed, as Eddie Money’s magic music cranked up, Eaton was on the money —and the Pirates poured out of the dugout to greet her at home plate.

Of course, the large contingent of Wheelersburg fans roared on in approval, and some of us along media row couldn’t help but smile and watch with amazement Eaton’s 20th and final home run in 2022 — the 34th of her career.

Eaton should have homered at least once in the state tournament to be honest, and she didn’t disappoint.

Then, with two outs in the bottom half, and after freshman reliever Kaylynn Carter walked a batter, the high drama built again —for what seemed like five agonizing minutes.

Finally, at long last, Carter struck out the final of the seven Mustangs she faced —and with that, the Pirates stormed out onto the field again, gloves and masks flying high in the air as hugs and smiles and even tears of joy were abound.

Yes, this is what Wheelersburg envisioned at the start of the season —rushing out of the dugout as Division III state softball champions for the second time in school history.

It ended as it should have —with an Eaton home run for the final offensive point, and a strikeout on defense to make the coveted state title official.

“It was great. I was just glad to get that run back and help my team out. I am happy it went over,” said Eaton, donning softball sunglasses at the postgame press conference.

Some symbolism perhaps?

After all, she was the brightest star there —certainly the center of the media attention all of Wheelersburg’s week leading up to the Final Four.

“If you look at that at-bat, Macee comes up and she has both sides into totally rooting for her or against her. Her being able to respond, especially through this tournament run, has been amazing,” said veteran Wheelersburg head coach Teresa Ruby. “I think all her teammates would agree the amount of pressure that is put on her shoulders, not necessarily by her teammates, but by all this stuff around her. For her to respond like that, I’m just really proud of her.”

Indeed, Eaton and the Pirates played with a distinct bullseye upon them all season —from reigning Region 11 champion to defending their Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship to being ranked wire-to-wire the top-ranked team in the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Division III statewide poll.

At every turn, in going a stellar 27-1 with the one loss (10-5) to Division I stronghold Teays Valley at Groveport, the Pirates answered the bell —including not one, not two, but count ‘em three wins over archrival West.

In fact, West’s three losses this season were all against Wheelersburg.

“This whole season, they (Pirates) have played with pressure, a target, and through a lot of social media stuff. That’s with only three seniors, and a lot of juniors, sophomores and freshmen. It’s a maturity that we’ve developed through the season that I couldn’t be prouder of,” said Ruby.

Speaking of maturity, what about the freshman Carter?

Ruby rolled the dice in the sixth inning, with Wheelersburg leading 4-2 but after the Mustangs scored two runs on two hits and an error in the fifth —and after Rankl doubled off ace AndiJo Howard to lead off the sixth.

Carter came in with the tying run at the plate and the go-ahead run on deck, and promptly retired 1-2-3 the first three Mustangs she saw —prior to her four-batter seventh stanza.

Carter said she suffered a hip injury prior to the tournament, and her role was essentially, unintentionally, relegated to cheerleader —but she said Ruby always told her to be ready.

“I went pretty much all the tournament without going in (to pitch), but I’ve been really preparing myself to be ready for today (state championship game). Even if I wasn’t going to go in, I knew that I was going to give myself the best shot if I was going to go in. As soon as I got called out, I knew that I had prepared correctly. I was ready to go out there, and I had full confidence in myself,” she said. “To be able to go out and perform and push through that injury, it felt great.”

That’s correct, as Carter gained the save with Howard earning the win —and with Wheelersburg Pirate players and coaches celebrating and spilling out of the dugout, for the second time in an entire inning.

Truth be told, Wheelersburg wasn’t going to have it any other way —except the way it ended.

“I have no words. We worked so hard. Just extremely proud,” said Eaton.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment. It takes a lot, and people just don’t know what all goes into this,” added Ruby. “I’ve told them that it takes more than talent. Talent alone doesn’t get you here. So many other things. We want to put the work in and do everything that we know we need to do to make this happen.”


By Paul Boggs

[email protected]

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved