The Fairfield Lady Lions have been in this game many times before, playing for another District Champion. But Saturday’s opponent was a tough one, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates. It was the No. 1 Seed from the East versus the No. 2 Seed from the West. It was the State’s second ranked team versus the State’s fourth ranked team. It was Wheelersburg with a 21-2 record and Fairfield with a 22-1 record. Wheelersburg entered the game with a high powered offense and a 2016 State Title with multiple trips to Akron’s Firestone Stadium. Fairfield entered the game with a stellar regular season and a winning tradition as well. It would be the first ever meeting between Fairfield and Wheelersburg on the softball field.
This game was slated to be a good one and it was. The show of Lady Lion softball fans that came to watch was truly impressive. The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates jumped up early with their high powered offense scoring 5 runs on 10 hits including a double and 2 home runs in the first two innings. Lesser teams would have packed it in and folded, but for the second game in a row the Fairfield Lady Lions and their coaches displayed the mental aspects of the game that set them apart from other teams. Playing hard, staying in the moment, having confidence in yourself and your teammates, being mentally tough, and never giving up. The in-game adjustments made by Kaiti White in the circle and the Lady Lions’ offense was truly impressive.
Wheelersburg’s pitching ace Saran Claxon retired the Lady Lions in order in the top of the first inning. Lead off Lady Pirate hitter Christen Risner reached first on an infield single on a bang bang play at first base. Kaiti White would strike out the next hitter, but a passed ball would advance Risner to second base where she scored on a base hit to right field by Boo Sturgill. Clean up hitter Rylie Hughes would excite the Wheelersburg fans as she launched a line drive over the centerfield fence to give the Lady Pirates a 3-0 lead. Wheelersburg collected three more hits in the inning and load the bases with two outs, but Kaiti White would strike out the ninth hitter to prevent further damage.
But the Fairfield Lady Lions would bounce back to score 3 runs in the top of the third inning to tie the score 3-3. Layla Hattan ripped a double to left centerfield to lead off the inning. Claxon would then retire the next hitter for the first out, then Ashley Sanderson would ground out to the first baseman as Layla Hattan headed to third base. The throw was wild at third base and Hattan scored. Hayleigh Lowe ripped a double to right centerfield and Molly Thackston followed with an infield single as Lowe took third base. With runners on first and third base, Halle Hamilton struck out on a pitch in the dirt and raced to first base on the dropped third strike. Molly Thackston was stealing on the pitch and when the throw to first base was wild, both Lowe and Thackston scored on the error.
The high powered offense of Wheelersburg would score two more runs in the bottom of the second inning. With two outs and no one on base, Boo Sturgill doubled to right centerfield, Rylie Hughes followed with her second home run in as many innings to give her team a 5-3 lead. Wheelersburg would collect two more hits in the inning, but Kaiti White would strike out the seventh batter in the lineup to end the inning.
Fairfield would answer immediately with two runs in the top of the third inning to tie the score at 5-5. Megan Gragg led off the inning with a bunt single and Kaiti White followed with a single to left field. Layla Hattan would single to centerfield as Megan Gragg was thrown out at the plate on a close play and White would take third base. Lauren Arnold then singled through the left side of the infield to drive home White as Hattan advanced to second base. Wheelersburg Coach Teresa Ruby had seen enough and brought the hard throwing Sydney Spence off the bench in relief of Sarah Claxon. One out later, Hayleigh Lowe would drive home Hattan on a base hit to tie the score.
After giving up five runs on ten hits including a double and two home runs, Kaiti White showed while she may be the best pitcher in the Southeast District as she would shut out the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates over the final five innings. Kaiti would limit the Lady Pirates to just three hits scattered over the last five innings as the Lady Lions played stellar defense behind her. Molly Thackston was truly impressive at third base as well as Layla Hattan at shortstop, Halle Hamilton at second base and Lyndee Spargur at first base.
Fairfield would take a 6-5 lead with a run in the top of the fifth inning. Lauren Arnold singled to left field to lead off the inning. Ashley Sanderson laced a single to centerfield and Hayleigh Lowe followed with an infield single to load the bases with no outs. Molly Thackston hit a ground ball back to the pitcher who threw home forcing Arnold at the plate, but the catcher’s throw to first to complete the double play was wild and Ashley Sanderson scored. Spence would retire the next two batters to prevent further damage.
After a scoreless sixth inning, the Lady Lions would add two insurance runs in the top of the seventh inning. Ashley Sanderson would draw a base on balls to lead off the inning and would be forced at second base as Hayleigh Lowe grounded back to the pitcher. Molly Thackston singled to centerfield as Lowe advance to third base and a throwing error by the centerfielder permitted Thackston to advance to second base. Both Lowe and Thackston would score on wild pitches to complete the Lady Lions scoring.
But Wheelersburg looked to make noise of their own as they came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning. Sarah Claxon re-entered the game to bat for Sydney Spence to lead off the inning and promptly singled to centerfield. Addi Collins grounded back to the circle as White threw to Hattan for the force at second base. Bella Williams drew a base on balls as Collins advance to second base. But Kaiti White proceeded to do what great pitchers do and closed the door enticing the next hitter to ground back to the circle and the ninth batter to pop up to second baseman Halle Hamilton who squeezed it in her glove to send the Lady Lions to yet another Sweet Sixteen Regional Tournament.
Fairfield may have played their best game of the year Saturday afternoon collecting 16 hard base hits while scoring 8 runs, forcing the Wheelersburg defense into 5 throwing errors, while playing outstanding errorless defense. Kaiti White was phenomenal in the circle showing her mental toughness and never giving up while gaining her record setting 23rd win of the season against 1 loss.
The Fairfield Lady Lions advance to the Lancaster Division III Regional Tournament for the seventh time in nine years (2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) and their eleventh time in program history (1981, 1982, 1986, 2006). It is the first time in program history they have made five consecutive appearances. The Fairfield Lady Lions will play the Ironton Lady Tigers (26-1) who defeated the Westfall Lady Mustangs today 10-0 at Lancaster High School on Wednesday, May 22nd at 6:00 PM.
Fairfield Lady Lions Assistant Coach Tom Purtell submitted this story.