CHILLICOTHE — The Wheelersburg Pirates played, probably to most likely, the first baseball game in the entire state of Ohio on a wickedly windy Saturday morning.
And, they didn’t even miss the noontime lunch hour —easily dispatching of the Logan Chieftains in the non-league season opener.
That’s because the Pirates posted all 14 of their runs through the first four innings, and starting pitcher Jake Darling dealt seven strikeouts over the same span, as Wheelersburg won easily 14-3 inside a spacious VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
The contest was the lidlifter of the 10th annual First National Bank Baseball Classic at VA Memorial Stadium, and unofficially the first game in the Buckeye State for the 2023 season.
Wheelersburg, the defending Southern Ohio Conference Division II champion, wind-whipped and wasted little time getting runners aboard against Logan starter Bobby Bauers —scoring three unearned runs with two outs in the opening inning, and erupting for nine runs with the aid of three Bauers walks and back-to-back hit batters in the second.
Oh, and all nine were with two outs in that at-bat as well.
Wheelersburg sent seven batters to the plate in the first and got three hits, including a bases-loaded and bases-clearing triple from Caden Conn.
The Pirates plated their nine second-stanza markers on only four hits, but they sent 13 batters to the dish —including Conn and Creed Warren with two-out two-run singles.
Finally in the fourth — against Chieftain reliever Matt Richards — Kolton Salyers singled to left to lead off and Brody Wilburn pinch ran, then after Rowdy Watkins walked and Warren grounded into a 6-4 fielder’s choice, Connor Estep smacked a two-run double to make it 14-1 at that point.
Wheelersburg shortstop Connor Estep (4) fires a throw to first base during the Pirates’ non-league season-opening baseball game against Logan on Saturday at Chillicothe’s VA Memorial Stadium.
Paul Boggs | Daily Times
Wheelersburg, with the game called following the fifth inning with the 10-run mercy rule, went off for 14 runs on 11 hits —as three Chieftain pitchers plunked four Pirates, with Bauers and Richards walking three apiece.
Other than what seemed like gale-force winds rocking a cloud-covered yet sunsoaked VA Memorial Stadium, all went according to the Pirates’ plan on Saturday.
These Pirates, sporting sole senior Lane Hutchinson and a trio of sophomores, are indeed a junior-circuit squad this spring.
Wheelersburg, which opens each season as part of the First National Bank Baseball Classic in Chillicothe, was one of the few Ohio clubs actually in official action.
The overwhelming majority of games got canceled due to high winds, cooler temperatures to start, and especially from Friday’s rainfall.
“Most of Ohio didn’t get to play today, so we’re grateful to be able to do so, and we’re thankful for the VA to hold this event every year. I told our guys getting off the bus that we’re probably the first game in the state this morning. I was worried with a 10 a.m. start how we would come out and play. But offensively, I was really pleased with our swings. With 11 hits, good things are usually happening,” said fifth-year Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore. “Then Jake (Darling) and Owen (Young), a bunch of credit goes to them on the mound for throwing a lot of strikes. I wasn’t too pleased with our defense in the bottom of the fifth, but for the first game, to put up 14 runs and get out of here in five (innings), it’s a good performance.”
Indeed, about the only drama for the Pirates involved the bottom of the fifth inning —with Logan at bat but trailing 14-2.
Owen Young had relieved his fellow junior Darling on the mound, but walked the leadoff Logan batter Chase Hutchison before recording two outs —sandwiched around the first Pirate error of the inning, and the game.
Simon Pierce’s infield hit plated Hutchison, as another Pirate fielding error loaded the bases —but the Chieftains needed twice to score in order for the contest to continue.
Instead, Young induced a groundout to Hutchinson at first base to end it.
However, it was Wheelersburg’s start that set the table —and turned the matchup into a rout.
In the first — and with two outs — Isaac Bockway reached on an error, Darling was hit by Bauers, and Hutchinson singled to right to load the bases.
Conn cleared the bags for the 3-0 lead, then made it 2-for-2 with his fourth and fifth runs batted in—and a 7-0 Pirates advantage —in the second.
Warren went 2-for-3 as well, while Hutchinson was 2-for-2 with an RBI-walk and a hit by a pitch.
Before Estep’s double in the fourth, Bockway had an RBI-single for a 4-0 lead —bringing in Watkins, who had a one-out single in the nine-run second.
That opened the floodgates for a dozen runs after an at-bat-and-a-half.
“That was a huge inning. To be able to add on and give our guys a sense of comfort. We talked about jumping on them early, and it was good to put three runs up in the first. Caden Conn had a great day at the plate,” said Moore. “It was good to see our guys compete because they were itching to get back here and play, especially after the way last year ended.”
Moore was referencing Wheelersburg’s loss to Meigs in the Division III district semifinals — played right there at VA Memorial Stadium.
Young gave the Pirates their 11th and final hit with a two-out single that hugged the left-field line.
“Most of our juniors showed out today. Caden (Conn) with five runs batted in, Creed Warren with two hits, Connor Estep a two-run double, and Owen Young and Jake Darling on the mound,” praised Moore.
Wheelersburg junior Creed Warren (20) rounds third base and scores a run during the Pirates’ non-league season-opening baseball game against Logan on Saturday at Chillicothe’s VA Memorial Stadium.
Paul Boggs | Daily Times
Darling struck out the first four Chieftains he faced, and retired the first five before hitting Dalton Brooks —who scored on a double down the left-field line by Richards.
In the fourth, Logan scored again —this time when Pierce doubled in the exact same direction, Josh Clary reached on an infield single, and Pierce raced home on a wild pitch.
But Darling didn’t allow a walk in the 16 batters he faced, twice retiring the side 1-2-3 —and getting defensive assistance in the form of four assists and one putout by the standout shortstop Estep.
“When you’re a pitcher and can strike out seven through four innings…Jake just commanded the zone,” said Moore. “I don’t know how many times he really got deep into counts. He got two strikes a lot of times early, really came right at them. That’s what we want with our pitchers, and he definitely set the tone early. When you throw strikes, good things are going to happen.”
Wheelersburg won at Waverly on Monday in its SOC II opener — beginning defense of its championship with a 7-0 shutout.
The Pirates play host to South Webster in the league on Wednesday, and are at Ironton in another non-league bout on Thursday.
Wheelersburg returns to VA Memorial Stadium on Saturday (April 1) —and plays Perry in non-league action at 3:30.
* * *
Wheelersburg 390 20 —14 11 2
Logan 010 11 — 3 4 2
WHS: Jake Darling 4IP, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 1HB, 3H, 1WP, 7K, 16BF; Owen Young 1IP, 1R, 0ER, 1BB, 0HB, 1H, 0WP, 1K, 7BF
LHS: Bobby Bauers 1 2/3 IP, 11R, 8ER, 3BB, 3HB, 6H, 1WP, 0K, 17BF; Matt Richards 2 1/3IP, 3R, 3ER, 3BB, 0HB, 4H, 1WP, 2K, 14BF; Chris Gumpf 1IP, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 1HB, 1H, 0WP, 0K, 5BF
W — Jake Darling; L — Bobby Bauers
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved