Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — Being a powerful, talented, middle-of-the-order hitter is always a valued commodity on any team.
However, for Wheelersburg’s Rylie Hughes, playing alongside the teammates she’s had in 2019 has been as big of a commodity to Hughes individually, if not even more so.
The talented sophomore has certainly shown that in her overall performance as the Pirates’ starting third baseman and cleanup hitter, and has helped lead Wheelersburg to a 20-2 overall record and a No. 2 overall ranking in the latest version of the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Poll (OHSFSCA) — a poll that Wheelersburg has 85 points and two first-place votes in.
“It has been a blessing playing alongside the girls and coaches,” Hughes said of her experience with Wheelersburg. “Everyone has been awesome and was so welcoming when I moved here. It has definitely been a lot of fun so far this season.”
Hughes wasted no time starting her season off with a bang as she hit two home runs alongside eight runs batted in, and three runs scored in a seismic performance against Northwest … and she hasn’t been slowed down since.
Over the course of the 22-game slate — heading into a Division III district semifinal against Minford, Thursday — Hughes has hit .456 on the year with 14 extra-base hits, including four home runs and 10 doubles.
The sophomore has also driven in 31 runs, walked 18 times, and scored on 25 occurrences en route to a season at the dish that will almost certainly attract college attention.
Hughes, however, credits her success to teammates like Boo Sturgill, Laney Eller, Bella Williams, Christen Risner, and Mallory Bergan — among others — and coaches like Teresa Ruby, who hasn’t missed a single regional tournament since becoming the head coach at Wheelersburg, beginning in the spring of 2014.
“It’s really awesome playing alongside these girls,” Hughes said. “They are all so talented. It takes a lot of pressure off me, knowing that we all have each other’s backs. Having so many great hitters around me makes me a better hitter myself, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to play the role at third base. I’ll do everything I can do to help my team win. As for coach Ruby and the entire staff, they are amazing coaches. It’s been awesome learning from coach Ruby. She has definitely helped me improve my game.”
Hughes has attempted to make her game more complete from a travel ball standpoint, as well. In fact, the sophomore third baseman played travel softball for the Ohio Outlaws’ 16U program this past fall — a team that Hughes, along with Sturgill, her fellow battering ram just ahead of her in the order, played on.
Hughes primarily played third base on the Nitro, W. Va.-based unit and also served as a utility player for the Outlaws. She’s put together significant offseason training with Mike Travis and Adam LaLonde.
“My favorite softball memory would either be playing in PGF Nationals last summer in Huntington Beach, Calif. with my travel team or hitting a grand slam my first game as a Pirate,” Hughes said. “My hitting coaches, Mike Travis and Adam LaLonde, have both been a huge part of helping me understand and improve my game.”
For now, the focus for Hughes, and her teammates, is to get back to Akron, which would mark the fourth time in five seasons that the Pirates have reached the OHSAA Final Four if they are to piece together a successful postseason run.
From a long-term and individual standpoint, Hughes wants to represent the best that Wheelersburg has to offer … both academically and athletically with her work on and off the playing surfaces.
“Our goal is to make it to Akron,” Hughes said. “Playing top-level competition makes us better and helps prepare us for tournament play. As for my individual goal, it is to play Division I college softball. But most importantly, it’s to keep good grades so I can get into a school where I can also get a good education.”