AKRON – The road to an OHSAA Division III State Championship rolls on for the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates, as they advanced to the state championship game after defeating the Johnstown-Monroe Lady Johnnies, 1-0.
“I always feel good when we get one run,” Wheelersburg softball coach Teresa Ruby said. “I really feel like we can win one-run games like this, with the defense and the pitching we have.”
When a team has good pitching and defense, one run is all they need and that’s all the Lady Pirates needed to redeem their loss in the state semifinals last season.
Wheelersburg has been accustomed to multiple blowout wins this season and haven’t had to rely on a minuscule lead to win their games. Even though they have seen more one-sided victories, Ruby believes her team can compete with any other team in the state.
“We just haven’t had to do that this year (win close games),” Ruby said. “Our bats have been pretty healthy, but today we were able to do it.”
With the win over Johnstown-Monroe, Wheelersburg claimed another team goal they set in the beginning of the season, advancing further than they did last season.
“We came here last year and kind of had it handed to us,” Ruby said. “It was nice to get that first win off our back. The first one is always the hard one.”
The game’s lone run came in the bottom of the third inning. Raygan Reyes led off the inning with a double just a few feet inside the third-base line.
Michal Cunningham came to the plate next and ripped a single between Johnstown-Monroe’s first and second basemen, scoring Reyes. Cunningham would reach second base after a fielding error in left field, but would be stranded there, as the next three batters recorded outs.
Faith Howard pitched another gem for the Lady Pirates, bringing her season total for wins to 21. Howard pitched all seven innings for Wheelersburg. In her shut-out victory, Howard pitched a one-hitter against the Lady Johnnies. The Wheelersburg hurler issued one walk and struck out five of the 25 batters she faced. She finished the day throwing 73 pitches, 24 balls and 49 strikes.
“I thought Faith pitched a fantastic game on the mound,” Ruby said.
Sydney Stefanick was the pitcher of record for Johnstown-Monroe. She pitched six innings in the loss, giving up one run, which was earned, off five hits. She walked one batter and recorded six strikeouts.
The Lady Pirates finished the game with five hits. Cunningham led Wheelersburg with two hits, going 2-for-3 at the plate. She singled to center in the first inning and then hit an RBI single in the third.
Reyes went 1-for-2 for Wheelersburg Thursday afternoon. The center-fielder drew a walk in the first inning and then led off the third with a double.
Kalle Coleman nearly scored in the fifth inning, finishing up just 90 feet away from home, at third base. Coleman reached first on a single to right-center. She then sped her way to third base after a Reyes sacrifice, but would end the inning left on base.
“Michal had some really sharp at-bats and hit the ball sharp,” Ruby said. “I thought we were a little anxious and didn’t have as focused at-bats as what I would like.”
Wheelersburg stranded four runners in scoring position during the game.
“Hopefully we’ll settle in on Saturday and get back to what we do,” Ruby said.
Wheelersburg had a near perfect game in the field Thursday, against their state semifinal opponent. The Lady Pirates were given one error in the game, a catcher’s interference call in the top of the second inning.
In what was possibly the defensive play of the game, Wheelersburg center-fielder Raygan Reyes made a diving catch in center, to get the second out of the second inning. The diving catch saw Reyes sprint from the depths of center field to make the out just a few feet from the infield.
“Ray (Raygan) made a beautiful play out in center,” Ruby said.
It wasn’t just Reyes providing support for Howard, as the whole team made contributions to record outs in the game. Limiting errors and playing solid defense have been talking points all season for the Lady Pirates.
“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Ruby said. “Give teams three outs. With the quality of pitching that we’ve got and the quality defense, you really put some pressure on the other teams to get three and four hits together to score runs.”
By limiting walks and other freebies, Wheelersburg has played their way to a berth in the state championship game.
“When you limit those, good things will happen,” Ruby added.
Wheelersburg will make its second appearance in a state championship game Saturday afternoon, where they will play for a chance to capture their first state championship in softball.
The Lady Pirates battled their way to the state championship game in 2004, but were unable to finish out the season with a state title.
The OHSAA Division III State Championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Firestone Stadium in Akron, Ohio. Wheelersburg will face the winner of the South Range (Canfield, OH) and Edison (Milan, OH) state semifinal game.
Wheelersburg — Coleman 1-3, Reyes 1-2 (R, 2B), Cunningham 2-3 (RBI), Blair 1-2
Johnstown-Monroe — Lusk 1-3, Thomas 0-1 (BB)
W – Howard (21-2) 7 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 5 K
L – Stefnick (11-6) 6 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 6 K
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.