“Embrace the grind”, that was the motto for the 2016 OHSAA Division III State Softball Champion Wheelersburg Lady Pirates. The motto was a way of life for the Lady Pirates and had more than one meaning. It adorned the team’s t-shirts and was their lifestyle before the season even officially began in late March. Parents, friends, family members, coaches and the players all decorated themselves with the saying all season long, proudly wearing the orange and black of the Lady Pirates and displaying the message of welcoming the hard work needed for a successful season.
Wheelersburg’s motto was even talked about in length by OHSAA Director of Information Services, Tim Stried, as he presented the Division III State Softball Championship to the Lady Pirates shortly after their 8-3 win over the South Range Lady Raiders Saturday, June 4, 2016 at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
“Going into this year, you developed a motto, ‘Embrace the Grind’, in fact, I see it on your coach’s shirt…and what did it get you this year…a number one state ranking and a third trip to the final four,” Stried said just before giving the championship trophy to the Lady Pirates. “Now it has gotten you the first softball state championship in Wheelersburg history.”
Embracing the grind gave the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates a mission, a statement and an identity. They wouldn’t settle for falling short of their main goal, a state title. They had a rallying cry for the times they saw more of the softball diamond and coach Teresa Ruby than they saw of their homes and parents.
What many Wheelersburg supporters didn’t know about the team’s motto, “Embrace the Grind”, was the second part of the phrase, the part not printed on the shirts.
“The other part of it, that wasn’t on our shirts was, ‘Enjoy the Success,’” Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby said Thursday evening, as the Lady Pirates gathered together at The Mill Tavern in Portsmouth, Ohio.
It was the first time the team had been together since winning the state championship.
“We knew coming into the season returning seven starters that there would be high expectations,” Ruby said. “It was about us. It was about us taking care of business, working hard every day and fighting that grind of a long season and not slipping.”
The grind of a long season can wreak havoc on a team’s morale, where defeats have little to no time to overcome due to the fast pace of the season.
Wheelersburg started their season Wednesday, March 30, 2016 and finalized it Saturday, June 4, 2016. In the 67 days from the season’s first pitch until Faith Howard ended the season with a called strike three, the Lady Pirates played 29 games.
“Having been to the state level before, we knew that we could compete, but a long season can take you away from that. You can lose sight of that,” Ruby said. “Embracing the grind and showing up every day and not really playing the team that’s on the other side, but playing ourselves.”
At one point in the season, Wheelersburg played 13 games in 14 days.
“That gets exhausting,” Ruby said.
Along with baseball, no other sport in high school athletics has games as frequently as softball. Teams are forced to rebound from losses without much preparation time and to compete at a state level, every player on the team must be able to step up and contribute when their teammates struggle.
“One thing about this group is that it is so well rounded…Any given night, it could be someone different,” Ruby said. “That was a big strength in this team. When you’re going to depend on a couple of people every night, the odds are not in your favor.”
Everyone has an off-night, no matter how athletic or talented they are.
“When any given night, I can look at different ballgames and point to everybody on this team, that was in that lineup, that was an important factor in why we won that game,” Ruby said. “Somebody had an off-night, but then this person picked it up and then the next night, they had an off night and someone else picked it up.”
Ruby immediately brought up the state final game against the South Range Lady Raiders, where the nine-hole hitter, Taylor McQuay, drove in the first two runs of the game.
“When you can have the bottom of your lineup pick up the slack for when the top of your lineup is off, great things happen,” Ruby said. “I think that was really one of the great parts of this team.”
Another reason the Lady Pirates were so successful on the softball diamond this year was how close each player was with one another.
“They love one another,” Ruby said. “They get along great. They’re a wonderful group of young ladies to be around. They have fun together. They laugh together. You could see it, you could see them come together and have that vision for what happened. It was a special thing to be a part of.”
Now that the Lady Pirates have already finished the first part of their motto, they are just beginning to get to the second part of that motto.
“I think the kids are enjoying people inviting us out to eat,” Ruby said in regards to whether her squad was enjoying their success.
The players and Ruby have had a huge outpouring of positive and congratulatory remarks from not only residents in Wheelersburg, but from people all throughout the county.
“That’s a wonderful part of our community,” Ruby said. “No matter what school you’re from, they embrace the area teams when they’ve been successful. That’s been fun and this has been pretty much the first time we’ve been really together as a group since we won.”
Ruby was excited to see her players together again as they began to enjoy their success, enjoying a meal at The Mill. The Wheelersburg skipper was happy to see not only the community support the team, but also her players, which she spent so much time being around and instructing.
“It was nice to see them again. I kind of missed them,” Ruby said. “You spend every day together and then all of a sudden you don’t see them again and it’s like you lost your children.”
The stories the community has shared with Ruby and her players have been heartwarming, according to Ruby. Many people throughout the community have told Ruby where they listened to the game and how even for some, the accomplishment of winning a state title brought tears to their eyes.
“Those stories have been wonderful,” Ruby said.
The Lady Pirates plan on enjoying their state championship as the summer goes by and during their banquet in August to celebrate one more time before the seniors leave for college or the workforce.
“We’ll then get back together in December and start our offseason workout,” Ruby said.
There’s already a goal for next season, made by the players, another state championship.
“They’ll tell you that, I know they will,” Ruby said jokingly. “I think I’ll enjoy the spoils and definitely when we get back together in the winter we’ll set our goals, just like we always do.”
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.