PDT Sports Writer
WHEELERSBURG — Stealing bases is a game of chance.
Taking the risk of advancing 90 feet closer to home is what a baseball coach has to make in certain spots of the game. The Fredericktown Freddies have made their mark this season with speed and Wheelersburg will look to squash those ideas in today’s Division III State Semifinal at Huntington Park.
“Their kids are going to bring a lot of effort and hard work into Friday’s ball game,” Pirates coach Michael Estep said earlier this week.
Entering today’s game, the quartet of Mitch Sellars, Matt Smith, Nash Cunningham and Austin Hathaway have combined for 87 stolen bases. In comparison, Wheelersburg as a team is 54-for-59 in stolen base attempts (91.5 percent).
Opponents have not had too much success running against the Pirates as four bases have been swiped this season. A reason for this is the work behind the plate by senior Austin Hall, who has thrown out 19 runners.
The only problem for the University of Dayton-bound Hall coming into today’s game in Columbus is an ankle injury he suffered in last week’s regional tournament. Dylan Miller was behind the plate for last Friday’s 10-9 regional final against St. Clairsville.
Although the feeling of having the long streak of close to 50 consecutive games played snapped was tough on Hall, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“I think it would’ve been a little bit tougher if I had known that our second catcher wasn’t as good as I had brought him up to be,” Hall said earlier this week. “Knowing Dylan was going to go in there and do the job, I was pretty confident that I was going to be okay with sitting on the sidelines.”
The Red Devils did not attempt a stolen base in the game. Fredericktown will take their chances no matter who is behind the plate.
However, Hall’s father David, told the Daily Times via text message that his son would be playing in today’s game despite the injury.
“I think just being able to play and getting down in my stance is a big plus for us,” Austin Hall said. “They like to run and hopefully I’ll be able to move my feet and throw some people out.”
One stat that jumps out for Wheelersburg pitching is eliminating the runner before he gets a chance to steal the next base. No Pirate hurler has a pick off this season.
Adjusting to situations
Today’s game is slated for 10 a.m. and the way Estep has prepared his team for the early first pitch all this week with practices starting at the same time, except for yesterday afternoon’s light workout at Dublin Coffman High School.
With some Saturday doubleheaders starting as early as noon, it has been adjustment for the group to play even earlier. But with school out of session, an early-morning itenerary for all events was created with little to no issue.
“It makes for an early morning, no doubt about that,” Estep said. “I think if you would ask them whether they would trade being there or not, it would be a pretty clear-cut answer.”
The one thing that may make the team’s early morning seem longer is the threat of inclement weather. Several Columbus-area forecasters predicted rainfall for today but some were calling for it to be hours before the first pitch.
“We talk about those things, the different transition period you have to face through the course of the tournament at times,” Estep said.
If storms do play a factor in tournament play, Wheelersburg will be used to it. Two years ago, their state championship game was rained out on a Saturday and was played the next day.
“We’ve done things like that before and I’ve always liked how our guys have responded in those situations,” Estep said. “You bottle up that intensity and when the rain quits, if it happens to come into play, we’ll open that jar back up and ready to play.”
The Pirates are one of five teams to make a return trip to Huntington Park.
In Division I, Grove City looked to improve upon its state runner-up finish a year ago before last night’s game, Columbus St. Francis DeSales and Minster want it back-to-back titles in Divisions II and IV respectively and Defiance Tinora is in the Division IV Final Four after qualifying in Division III a year ago. The two defending champions, along with Wheelersburg and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller, are the only teams remaining to have won the state title.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are five schools will make their debut in this year’s Final Four. They are Massillon Perry and Westlake (Division I), Wapakoneta (Division II) and Fredericktown and Orwell Grand Valley (Division III).
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.