PDT Sports Writer
WHEELERSBURG —The only seniors that can claim they ended their careers being on top of their sport are those that win championships.
This weekend six Wheelersburg baseball players will try to make the statement of going out as a winner when the Pirates play in the Division III State Tournament. The group of Alex Shears, Austin Boyer, Austin Hall, Brett Hood, John Clevenger and Zach Flanagan have been a part of the Wheelersburg program that is making its third-straight appearance in the Final Four.
“With this group of boys we have, obviously we’re coming out focused every day and we have high expectations of this program,” Clevenger said. “I think that’s what’s expected of us every year is to get to these high levels in the tournament and that’s the mindset we have with everything.”
For Boyer, reaching this moment is a blessing. Last week, the man nicknamed Nub went from throwing 2/3 of an inning to start Friday’s regional championship against St. Clairsville to fielding the ground ball that resulted in the final putout of the game.
“I wanted it bad because I put us in that situation so to speak,” Boyer said. “I wanted that ball because I wanted to finish it.”
Before jetting off to the University of Dayton in the fall to play for the Flyer baseball team, Hall feels there is one piece of business that needs to be finished. Although he missed last Friday’s championship game with an ankle injury, Hall doesn’t want anything stopping him from going to his normal catching position and missing another game.
What was the hardest part for Hall was sitting out of the final home practice Wednesday.
“Sitting on the sidelines, that’s never a fun thing after being a three-year starter and winning two regional championships before that,” Hall said. “It hurts but I knew Dylan (Miller) had all the tools necessary to be a successful catcher.”
For the third time this postseason, Wheelersburg will could play on back-to-back days in order to claim a championship. To Hood, the crown may come down to pitching.
“I feel like we can go back-to-back pretty well because Derek (Moore) is our ace probably but we’ve got guys like Wade (Martin) and Nub that can go right in there,” Hood said. “I’d put them up against other teams’ aces really. They’re number two or three guys but they’re as solid as other guys.”
This is the second postseason varsity experience for Flanagan. As a role player coming off the bench, the feeling of being a part of the team is something he will never forget.
“It’s just an honor going to state last year and then going again this year,” Flanagan said. “That’s just great and then knowing we went three times in a row, that just shows how good of a team we can be. If we play well, we can be successful.”
Two years ago, the Pirates tied a state tournament record by winning a 12-inning game 8-4 over Hamilton Badin and then celebrated with a pool party afterwards. Wheelersburg went on to play Bellville Clear Fork and lost 14-3.
Shears said it was lessons like that have helped this team realize what it takes outside of the diamond to possibly win a state title.
“It’s just awesome to go back there three-straight years,” Shears said. “You kind of get used to it after a while.”
The forecast for tomorrow’s semifinal is calling for rain, a situation they also had to face two years ago. Shears stated staying focused is what his team has to do in order to advance.
No matter how this weekend turns out, Pirates coach Michael Estep is proud of the way this senior class has handled themselves and become leaders.
“These guys have won 110 ball games now in their four years, they’re 110-11 in their four-year career,” Estep said. “That says a lot about the consistency and the work they’ve put in on this field.”
This senior class will look to add two more wins this weekend at Huntington Park in Columbus. Wheelersburg will play a 10 a.m. first pitch tomorrow against Fredericktown and will play the winner of Orrwell Grand Valley and Lima Central Catholic in Saturday’s championship should they advance.
Cody Leist can be reached ay 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.