By Garth Shanklin
An historic season came to an historic end for the Williamsburg Wildcats’ softball team in Akron on Saturday, June 3.
The Lady Wildcats defeated Danville 3-2 to win the Division IV softball state title, the first team title in school history. Head coach Rick Healey praised the Lady Wildcats’ work ethic from the very first day the season began.
“These girls are phenomenal young ladies,” Healey said. “When you have people that play as hard as they do, and we talked about it as a team. February 22 is when we started. Game by game, practice by practice, there were some long hours. Lots of hitting, lots of weight lifting. They stuck with it. They never said we’re not going to do that anymore. Because of all their hard work, their dedication to softball and their love for the game, this is the end result.”
Early on, it appeared the end result would not be in the Lady Wildcats’ favor. Williamsburg spent the first four innings without a hit. Emma Jeffers and Carly Wagers each tallied walks for Williamsburg, but neither found their way to home plate. Rylee Clark attributed the slow start to a problem with the team’s mentality entering the game.
“Coming into this, we were really in our heads,” Clark said. “We’ve seen pitching very similar to her, and I think we were so eager to hit the ball we were swinging at bad pitches. As the pressure got put on later in the game, we started calming down.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Danville struck for a pair of runs. McKinley Alberts slapped a single to third base. Shanna Mickley walked and moved to third on a throwing error by Williamsburg catcher Kara Bailey. Alberts moved to second on the throw to center field and scored as Kacey Smith’s throw from center sailed into the dugout. Mickley moved to third on the errant throw and scored one batter later on a wild pitch by Wagers.
Peyton Fisher said the team told Bailey and third baseman Jacee Rhone to just do their job and the upperclassmen would pick them up.
“When that happened, they were really upset,” Fisher said. “We just told them that they had to trust the upperclassmen. We’ll get you back into the game, but you have to do your job. We’ll win the state title if you catch the ball and you play third base.”
Williamsburg did just that in the top of the fifth. Jeffers walked again, and Fisher followed two outs later with a walk of her own. Golden walked to load the bases, and Wagers knocked in a pair of runs with a bouncing ball into right field, which tied the game at two.
Wagers had been walked with the bases loaded earlier in the season against Covington, and Healey said if he had been in the other dugout, he would have considered doing it again.
“I’m not sure I pitch to her,” Healey said. “I know it sounds insane to give up a run and now it’s 2-1, but that’s the kind of lady she is. I wouldn’t want to pitch to her. She’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal hitter.”
Wagers and the Williamsburg defense kept the game tied until the top of the seventh inning. With two outs, Wagers walked. Clark was hit with a pitch, and senior Kacey Smith singled home Wagers to put Williamsburg on top for good.
The base hit was a bit of redemption for Smith, who started the team’s semifinal loss to Crestview last season. She said the pitch she was thrown couldn’t have been in a better spot for her to hit.
“It feels pretty great,” Smith said. “I had seen her a couple times, and in the at-bat before I was right on her. When she threw that pitch, it’s inside, that’s my favorite pitch to hit. I knew [Wagers] could score, and if we got that run she could buckle down and throw. It was just super important to stay calm during that at-bat, I was just ready to hit.”
Wagers got the win in the circle this time around, tossing a complete-game two-hitter. She allowed two unearned runs while striking out 11. She said she knew she had to be selective with her pitches against Danville.
“Don’t play around, but be very careful,” Wagers said. “I knew they were a very good hitting team I had to work around and hit my corners. I went into a slump there for a while, I lost a lot of energy, but with everyone in the dugout cheering me up I got a lot back. I was just working my game.”
Williamsburg only had three hits in the game, but they were crucial hits. Wagers’ finished the game 1-for-3 with a pair of RBI, Smith picked up one hit in four at-bats and an RBI, and Jeffers’ singled in her only official at-bat. She also scored a run.
Clark and Smith are two of the six seniors the Lady Wildcats say goodbye to after the game.
“It’s going to sting really bad to lose them,” Healey said.
The fan support was not lost on Wagers, who credited the Williamsburg faithful with turning out in large numbers both days of the tournament.
“This tiny town has provided more support than any big town could,” Wagers said. “It’s crazy. The energy is crazy, it’s awesome.”
It wasn’t just Williamsburg, however. Fisher said she had received messages from throughout the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference.
“I was getting tweets last night from Bethel, New Richmond, Felicity,” Fisher said. “If you look in the stands, there were other teams here in the stands rooting for us. It’s really amazing.”
Williamsburg’s state title is the first for Clermont County since Milford’s boys’ golf team won the championship in 1989-1990.