CHILLICOTHE — For the second time in three seasons, the Wheelersburg Pirates (22-7) are Division III district champions.
‘Burg, the back-to-back outright Southern Ohio Conference Division II champions this spring, earned a 9-3 win over Ironton in the D-III Southeast No. 3 final at VA Memorial Stadium on Friday night — punching their ticket into the Region 11 tournament once again.
Seven different Pirates reached base, and junior Jake Darling pitched a complete game on the mound in the victory.
“The one that was constant this year was our guys are resilient,” Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore said, following the win. “We score four runs and give up two, it gets back to a narrow game. We found ways to keep adding runs after that, that’s a testament to those guys and our coaching staff — all the work they’ve put in. Super grateful and blessed, thankful to say we have another week to come and play baseball.”
Three different ‘Burg batters had two hits apiece in the win, including juniors Kolton Salyers, Rowdy Watkins and Darling.
Fellow junior Connor Estep, Darling and Watkins each scored two runs as well.
The Pirates also took advantage of some key Ironton errors over the course of the game.
Watkins delivered a two RBI-single in the second that put ‘Burg ahead 2-0 — before two more runs scored on two Fighting Tiger errors.
Ironton found its footing briefly in its third — with back-to-back RBI baseknocks by Ian Ginger and Brady Moatz.
In the fourth, two Pirate runs scored from second and third with two outs following a wild pitch.
In the next inning, it was again the bottom of ‘Burg’s lineup getting it done.
Darling and Salyers delivered consecutive RBI-doubles to put the Pirates ahead 8-2 through five complete.
“Somebody in the dugout mentioned, ‘How about the bottom half of our lineup?’. Between Rowdy, Kolton Salyers coming up with some big hits,” Moore said. “Really proud of Rowdy after struggling at times on Wednesday (3-1 district semifinal win over Zane Trace) for having some great at-bats and played a great centerfield tonight. Testament to his attitude and effort.”
Darling earned the win on the mound while allowing six hits, three earned runs, issuing one walk and striking out four Fighting Tiger batters.
Just four of Ironton starting pitcher Trevor Kleinman’s runs allowed were even earned — as he allowed eight hits, issued three walks, and struck out six across six innings.
“From the start to finish, it looked like Jake kept getting stronger and stronger,” Moore said, of Darling’s outing. “I think after the fourth he came in the dugout and told one of our assistants that he was finishing this game. A dude that’s our best catching option, for him to pitch that well is big. Defensively, lot of big plays — some mistakes. But when it came down to making plays, we made them and that’s what Pirate baseball is about.”
Wheelersburg advances to the Division III, Region 11 semifinals where they’ll face an opponent they know all too well — SOC II rival Valley.
The Pirates earned 2-1 and 6-1 victories over the Indians during their meetings in the regular season — and will meet for a third time with a trip to the Region 11 final on the line.
Wheelersburg and Valley’s Region 11 semifinal is tentatively scheduled for Thursday (June 1) at 11 a.m. at VA Memorial Stadium.
The Wheelersburg-Valley winner advances to the Region 11 final — to face the winner of Harrison Central and Eastern Brown.
“We’re going to enjoy the heck out of this one. Blessed to be back in the regionals, we know it’s not going to get any easier,” Moore said. “I think everybody knows the SOC this year as a whole, one of the top conferences in the state this year in my opinion. Chance to get back to the Elite Eight, two of the best programs in the conference, we’re going to have to be at our best. They’re playing really good baseball. I’m sure we’re going to see George (Arnett), and George always keeps it close. We’re going to have to score a couple of runs, play good defense and throw strikes.”
Ironton 002 001 0 — 3 6 5
Wheelersburg 040 221 X — 9 8 2
W: Jake Darling (W) 7IP, 6H, 3ER, 1BB, 4K ; L: Trevor Kleinman 6IP, 8H, 4ER, 3BB, 6K
Ian Ginger 2-4, R, RBI
Brady Moatz 1-3, RBI
Trevor Kleinman 1-2, R, BB
Tanner Moore 1-3, RBI
Braydon Baker 1-3, R
Connor Estep 1-4, 2R, RBI
Caden Conn 0-2, BB
Lane Hutchinson 1-4
Jake Darling 2-2, 2R, RBI, BB
Kolton Salyers 2-3, R, RBI
Owen Young 0-2, R, BB
Rowdy Watkins 2-3, 2R, RBI
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved