Rivalry games always bring out the best in the biggest competitors.
And the West Senators and Wheelersburg Pirates have proven, time and time again, that their rosters are chalk-full of them.
However, as with many evenings over the past 25 years, the baseball program that is Wheelersburg proved to be too strong.
A five-run first inning, along with a 2-for-2, three-RBI performance and a solo home run by Kaden Coleman, and another excellent pitching performance by Kaleb Coleman allowed the Wheelersburg Pirates to take home a 13-4 victory over the West Senators on Tuesday evening.
For Michael Estep, the focus and approach that his unit carried at the plate, even for a unit that holds an 11-1 mark for the year, was a pleasing thing to see.
“It’s great to see how consistent the guys were throughout the order during the game,” Estep said. “It just makes you wish that you could bottle that all up in a jar and share it a little bit on the following days, but that’s baseball, and you take it when you can get it. This field is always a challenging place for us to come and compete, because of the rivalry between West and Wheelersburg. Whether it’s a group that is old or young, it doesn’t make any difference. West always tries to come and put a good product out on the field.”
As far as Chris Rapp is concerned, however, his team has nothing to be ashamed of.
“We put ourselves in a hole in the first inning,” Rapp said. “Then, we get runners on base and shot ourselves in the foot in the first inning. Kids have to understand that they can’t do it all themselves. They get on base and rely on their teammates to move them over. That’s a part of being young, and we just have to learn from our mistakes. We did battle back at the end, and we never gave up on the contest. They were swinging the bats the first inning, and they were swinging the bats the last inning, so that’s what you want to see. Hat’s off to Wheelersburg. Everything that they hit was a hard shot. No bloopers or anything like that, just hard shots.”
Those hard shots were evident from the get-go when the Pirates used their consistent approach to tag West for five early runs.
After a game-opening single by Trey Carter, the right fielder was caught stealing on an excellent throwout behind the plate from West’s Cade Powell.
However, that didn’t phase Wheelersburg one bit. A single by Jalen Miller, along with two wild pitches and a walk to Xander Carmichael, allowed Kaden Coleman to follow with a single to right field that scored Miller. Cole Darnell then added a double to right center field to plate Carmichael and Coleman to force West to change pitchers as Dylan Bradford came in to replace Todd Williams.
Even with that, the Pirates weren’t done adding runs. After Bradford induced a 4-3 groundout, Brandon Denney followed with a walk, and Athan Temponeras and Connor Mullins each followed with RBI base knocks to right field to score Darnell and Denney and give Wheelersburg up by a 5-0 tally within the game’s first half-inning.
“You didn’t see a lot of lackadaisical pop-ups or fly balls,” Estep said. “There were just a lot of top-half hit baseballs, and the balls that were hit in the outfield were hit pretty hard. I really liked the approach of our guys (on Tuesday), and hopefully, we can continue it moving forward.”
Even though Williams’ leadoff single to start the bottom half of the frame was negated on a 1-3 pickoff by Kaleb Coleman, the Senators were still able to establish some momentum as Garrett Hurd’s double, a balk, and a third strike swing-and-miss ball that sailed to the backstop allowed Hurd to score as West cut into the margin slightly, 5-1, after an inning of play.
“There were definitely some bright spots,” Rapp said. “We didn’t have school today because of (a professional development day) and during the break, I went up, looked down on the ballfield, and at 1 p.m., Garrett was down there, by himself, hitting off of the tee. That’s what it takes to win baseball games, and that’s what it takes to get better. He proved it tonight.”
Again, however, Wheelersburg wasted no time answering, as an error, a Cole Darnell walk and a wild pitch allowed Kaden Coleman to score again in the third inning. Darnell then followed Coleman home as an additional error allowed the Pirates to up its advantage to a 7-1 tally.
Darnell, however, was far from finished. The senior first baseman took a Bradford pitch and launched a well-hit baseball over the right center field fence to increase the Pirates’ lead to an 8-1 tally. Darnell finished the day by going 2-for-2 with the solo home run, two walks, four RBI, and three runs scored.
“Our guys did a much better job offensively at being consistent throughout the game,” Estep said. “On Monday, we scored four runs in the second inning against West, but we weren’t able to muster very much after that. It was good to see that we put a number up in multiple innings.”
In the bottom of the fourth frame, Cade McNeil showed off his impressive abilities for West by launching his own solo homer over the right center field fence.
“Cade McNeil is hitting the ball hard,” Rapp said. “He had the home run tonight, but anytime Cade hits the ball, he hits hard shots, whether it’s an out or not. I like what I see there.”
However, Kaleb Coleman, who struck out seven batters and allowed just four hits over five innings of work, wasn’t tagged again, and behind the efforts of Darnell and Kaden Coleman, Wheelersburg added three more runs in the fifth to take an 11-2 lead and cruise from there. Both teams added a pair of runs in the seventh frame before the contest came to its conclusion.
“Kaleb’s been great for us,” Estep said. “We were able to maintain defensively, too, and that’s what it takes, because we were able to keep his pitch count relatively low today, and with a pretty heavy schedule throughout the remainder of the week — if Mother Nature is good to us here — we’ll be able to keep everybody fresh while allowing them to work from the hill without having to take six days off. Instead, we can throw each guy every fourth or fifth day with the depth that we have on our pitching staff. We had some guys who hadn’t thrown for a week, and they were thrown into the fire against some pretty good teams because of how the weather played out.”
With the victory, Wheelersburg improved to a stout 11-1 and 8-0 in the SOC II. West fell to 8-6 overall and 5-5 in the league. While both units have tough roads ahead — with the former playing in the Peoples Bank Classic in a jampacked field at Greenup County and playing a much-improved Oak Hill squad, and the latter taking on Waverly in a pair of SOC II bouts — it’s all about taking on each opponent as they come, as Rapp says best.
“We have to focus on one game at a time,” Rapp said, “play baseball, and we’ll be alright.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7