LANCASTER — The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates are headed to Akron after defeating the Albany Alexander Lady Spartans Saturday afternoon in an OHSAA Division III Regional Finals game. Wheelersburg advanced to the state final four thanks to a 7-1 win over Alexander.
Wheelersburg had it all in their win over Alexander. The Lady Pirates had excellent fielding, timely hitting, dominating pitching and a dose of power.
“Again, I think that’s what makes this team so special,” Wheelersburg softball coach, Teresa Ruby said. “They’re not one particular type of team.”
Ruby said Saturday’s game was very similar to Thursday’s regional semifinal game which saw multiple players step up to produce for the team.
“Any given day anybody can step up,” Ruby said. “You had Kasey (Bergan) today with a big hit and Michal (Cunningham) had a good day a the plate.”
Wheelersburg had a lot of success moving runners once they reached base safely. They also had tremendous success hitting with runners in scoring position.
“It’s not about how many you get, it’s when you get them,” Ruby said. “We got some nice base hits with people in scoring position.”
The Lady Pirates wasted little time putting runs on the board, as Wheelersburg scored twice in the top of the first inning.
Kalle Coleman started off the inning reaching on an Alexander fielding error. Two batters later, Michal Cunningham knocked a single into left-center field which scored Coleman.
Cunningham was then brought home when Kasey Bergan hit a single to the exact same location, scoring the second run of the inning for Wheelersburg.
Trailing 2-0, Alexander got their only run on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third inning.
Hunter Markins started the inning with a single for the Lady Spartans. The next batter was sent back to the dugout via a strikeout, which brought up Nicole Hudnall. Hudnall reached on a short single and advanced Markins to second. Two batters later, after another strikeout, Kendall Meeks drove in the only Alexander run with a single to center.
Wheelersburg piled on another three runs in the top of the fifth. Raygan Reyes, Cunningham and Kasey Bergan all scored in the inning to give Wheelersburg a 5-1 lead with only two and one-half innings left to play in the game.
Two more insurance runs came by way of the long-ball in the seventh inning, when Lady Pirates catcher Bergan hit a two-run shot in dead-center field. Myra Sosby was standing on first when Bergan’s hit cleared the fence, electrifying not only the multitude of Wheelersburg fans in attendance, but the Lady Pirates themselves, as they knew a trip to Akron was just three outs away.
Wheelersburg’s Faith Howard made short work of Alexander in the bottom of the seventh inning. After Meghan Trout reached on an error, Howard struck out the next three batters to close the door on the Lady Spartans season and send Wheelersburg to the state semifinals.
Howard was lights out once again for Wheelersburg. The junior pitched all seven innings for the Lady Pirates allowing a single run, earned, off five hits.
The Wheelersburg hurler needed only 86 pitches to finish off Alexander. The Lady Spartans put together five hits against Howard, but were unable to draw any walks.
Howard showed dominance throughout the game though, striking out 10 batters in the win.
“I thought Faith pitched an outstanding game,” Ruby said. “She had 10 strikeouts against a very good hitting team. I thought she worked well.”
Ruby said she knew the top of the Alexander lineup was lethal.
“She did a good job keeping them off the bases,” Ruby said.
Meeks got the start for Alexander and was the pitcher of record in the loss to Wheelersburg. She pitched the entire game for the Lady Spartans with seven innings of work, allowing seven runs of which five were earned. Meeks gave up 12 hits in total to Wheelersburg striking out four batters, while issuing no walks.
Wheelersburg nearly had a flawless day in the field. The Lady Pirates had one fielding error in the game, but had several big-time plays that eventually resulted in outs or kept runners in check, preventing them from scoring.
“This is one of the best defensive teams I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” Ruby said. “That’s the way it has been all season long. Our defensive percentage is about 0.98 and the kids know how to play the game.”
Wheelersburg scored seven runs off 12 hits against Alexander, nine of which came from three players. Cunningham, Bergan and Laiken Salyers finished the day with three hits a piece.
Cunningham hit three singles in the game scoring twice and driving in one run. Salyers had two singles and a double, while knocking in a run.
Bergan went 3-for-4 at the plate with a single, double and a home run. The catcher was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. She also led the team in RBIs in the game, racking up four.
“Execution, getting bunts down and all that is something this team has done all season long,” Ruby said. “That’s why I think they’re so special.”
Alexander had five hits in the game. They were led by Meeks, who went 2-for-3 on the day. She also drove in the only Lady Spartans run.
Wheelersburg advances to the state final four, also known as the state semifinal round. The Lady Pirates will face the Region 12 winners, the Johnstown-Monroe Lady Johnnies, Thursday, June 2, 2016 at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
First pitch in the state semifinal game is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
“It’s the second straight year of going the the final four,” Ruby said. “I’ve been here three years and the first year we made it to the regional finals and we said we wanted to take it another step. Last year we made it to state and want to take it another step, so this year, we want a state championship.”
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.