CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — For the third straight year, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates have captured an OHSAA Division III Southeast District Championship. The Lady Pirates pulled the three-peat in district titles Tuesday evening after they defeated the Lucasville Valley Lady Indians 4-0.
After being rescheduled from Saturday afternoon due to inclement weather, the two SOC II rivals were forced to wait until Tuesday before deciding which team would come out triumphant and move on to the regional semifinal round.
“It was a good all-around winning effort tonight for everybody,” Wheelersburg softball coach Teresa Ruby said.
Those comments, while directed mainly at the Wheelersburg squad, also depicted the effort put forth by the Lady Indians, as Ruby was quick to praise Valley’s efforts Tuesday evening.
“I thought Valley played an excellent game,” Ruby said.
Valley softball coach Tim Brown had no issue with his squad’s performance against Wheelersburg.
“I thought we played as best as we possibly could,” Brown said. “I’m very proud of my girls. If you’re going to go out on a ball game, you want to go out by the state champions. They (Wheelersburg) have been ranked number one all year long. They didn’t blow us out today. We made them work for it all the way to the end.”
Wheelersburg and Valley were locked in a tight, one-run, game.
In the bottom of the first inning, Wheelersburg scored one run after Kalle Coleman started the inning with a single and was advanced by a Raygan Reyes sacrifice. From there, Michal Cunningham drove in Coleman with an RBI double, to give Wheelersburg a 1-0 lead after one inning.
The game would continue to the bottom of the fifth inning with the Lady Pirates still leading by that single run.
In the Wheelersburg half of the fifth inning, Faith Howard got the inning rolling for the Lady Pirates by reaching safely after a fielding error. Then, Lexi Blair hit a one-strike single to put runners on first and second with no outs.
Wheelersburg played a little small-ball next as Taylor McQuay advanced both runners thanks to a sacrifice.
Next up for the Lady Pirates was Coleman, who had earlier reached via a single. Shortly after stepping into the batter’s box, the Lady Pirate sent the first pitch she saw sailing over the fence in center, blasting a three-run home run to give Wheelersburg a 4-0 lead.
The Lady Indians would not be able to overcome their four-run deficit over the next two innings. They would have one hitter reach safely in the last two innings of the game, third baseman Destiny Gardner, who reached on a single in the top of the seventh inning.
You gotta have Faith
Valley and Wheelersburg had plenty of faith going into Tuesday’s game, both figuratively and literally.
Faith Howard pitched a complete game shutout for Wheelersburg. In seven innings work, she allowed only three hits and one hit batter. She also racked up nine strikeouts against Valley.
“I thought she pitched an exceptional game,” Ruby said. “She’s strong and had good control of all of her pitches.”
Howard worked the plate well throughout the game and kept the Valley hitters off balance. Four of Howard’s strikeouts were called third strikes, which added momentum to the Wheelersburg cause.
“I was extremely happy with her effort today,” Ruby said.
Valley softball coach Tim Brown was impressed with Howard’s performance as well.
“Faith (Howard) has one of the best change-ups I’ve ever seen,” Brown said. “She drops it off the table. You better put two tennis rackets on the end of a golf club, because I’m telling you she can drop it off on you. She’s also a very great kid.”
Valley showed some faith as well, as Faith Brown was given the start for the Lady Indians. The Valley hurler started the game and faced the first nine batters before being switched out for Amber Altman, who came in to face the next nine batters.
The move was an attempt to switch things up for the Wheelersburg batters.
“I told Faith (Brown) she was going to start the game, and that I didn’t want to see a fast pitch,” Brown said. “I told her we’re going to throw off-speed, change-up, dropball and curveball.”
After going through the first nine batters, Altman was brought in and threw mainly fastballs.
“That’s what we did until the fifth inning,” Brown said.
Wheelersburg finished with eight hits Tuesday. Coleman led the Lady Pirates with three hits, a single, double and a home run, lacking a triple from hitting the cycle.
Cunningham, Kasey Bergan, Blair, Lexy Traylor and McQuay each had one hit as well in the win over Valley.
Kirbi Sommers, Destiny Gardner and Maddy Kuhn all had one hit in the game, with each going 1-for-3 at the plate.
Valley’s defense kept the game as close as it was thanks to several clutch plays by the Lady Indians.
Gardner, Valley’s third baseman, had several impressive stops on the left side of the infield. She was responsible for assisting in recording four outs in the game, including a backhanded stop in the sixth inning which prevented a run from scoring.
“I thought they got a really good game out of their third baseman,” Ruby said. “She had an exceptional game tonight.”
Destiny played lights out,” Brown said. “She had some great plays.”
Keana Schackart, Valley’s second baseman, was also responsible for stopping a Wheelersburg run from scoring in the bottom of the third inning.
“She had a great play where she went back and dove and caught a fly ball,” Brown said. “She made a throw to Marissa Markins (first baseman), who then turned and threw a strike to home plate to get the runner out.”
Schackart showed great fielding intelligence, as she immediately threw the ball to her first baseman after hitting the outfield grass and rolling over after making the catch.
Valley will lose two seniors to graduation this year, Altman and Schackart.
“I hate to see them go,” Brown said. “I’ve been around Amber (Altman) since she was a little mite and then Keana when she got to high school.
Brown was happy to see Schackart’s progression through her high school years and was very proud of her play this season, noting she went from batting ninth in the lineup, up to fifth by Tuesday’s game.
“She played lights out,” Brown said.
Altman was a four-year starter for Valley. She will continue her softball career in college, as she signed with an NCAA Division II school.
Wheelersburg advances to the regional semifinal round Thursday, May 26, 2016. The Lady Pirates will face the Buckeye Trail Lady Warriors of Lore City, Ohio.
“We’re in the regionals and we know we’re going to play a great team,” Ruby said. “What we have to do is to make sure we come prepared and put our best foot forward and hopefully the outcome will come our way.”
First pitch for the regional semifinal game is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, OH.
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.