CHILLICOTHE — Wheelersburg and Valley added another memorable chapter to their head-to-head history in Thursday’s Division III, Region 11 baseball semifinal at VA Memorial Stadium.
Thanks to a three-run fourth inning, an added run in the sixth, and a strong performance by junior Caden Conn and his defense, the Pirates earned a 4-1 victory over the Indians to advance to their first regional final since 2017.
Thursday’s meeting was the first in the postseason between the Southern Ohio Conference Division II rivals since 2018 — a 2-1 win by Valley in the D-III district semis.
This go around, it was the Pirates (23-7) which claimed the win-or-go-home contest.
“Playing Pirate baseball like we have all season,” Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore said, after the game. “Caden (Conn) throwing strikes, he was amazing which he has been all year. Playing great defense behind him and timely hitting. First three innings we would get guys on, bases loaded one inning. Told our guys not to stress that it’s going to come. Fourth inning finally strung together some hits, some hit by pitches, they made a couple of mistakes and we took advantage. Super proud of our guys.”
Conn allowed just one run and four hits on 75 pitches in the complete-game triumph.
His earned run came in the second when Valley senior Hunter Edwards drove in freshman Carson Powell with an RBI-sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately for the Indians, their scoring second was the only frame that produced a run.
It wasn’t for lack of contact or power, as Valley batters struck out just three times against Conn.
“We hit some balls hard today, they just found gloves,” Valley coach Nolan Crabtree said. “Have to tip your cap to Wheelersburg. They’re a good ball team, you know what it’s going to be every time we go against them. Just couldn’t find holes when we needed to.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Wheelersburg’s first two batters in junior Isaac Bockway and senior Lane Hutchinson reached via hit by pitch.
After a fielder’s choice out that got the leadoff runner Bockway, junior Jake Darling delivered an RBI-double that bounced out of a diving Edwards’ glove and into right field — tying the game at 1-1.
Junior Kolton Salyers gave the Pirates the lead at 2-1 with an RBI-double, scoring junior Creed Warren who reached on the fielder’s choice.
Darling scored from third on a Valley error on the same play, sliding under the tag of Valley junior catcher Jace Copley on a bang-bang play at the plate.
Holding a 3-1 lead, it was Darling’s RBI-double in the sixth that scored Jake Clevinger — who pinch ran for Hutchinson — to give ‘Burg a 4-1 lead.
Hutchinson reached base in each of his three plate appearances, while Darling and Salyers had two hits apiece.
“Those guys have been consistent all year,” Moore said. “So proud of Lane, dealing with a shoulder injury but that hasn’t stopped him from swinging. Jake and Kolton coming up big at the plate. Jake caught a heck of a game, big added run in the sixth for a little more comfort.”
“They get the two hit batters, fly ball to Hunter. It’s almost like the wind kept pushing it back,” Crabtree said. “Just an unfortunate play there, and the next guy shoots one in the gap. That was a big momentum swing. Those are the breaks.”
Valley (18-8) graduates seven seniors from their 2023 team, including Thursday’s starting pitcher George Arnett, Edwards, Colt Buckle, Carter Nickel, Chris Queen, J.R. Holbrook and Kason Bauer.
That group has been a part of three consecutive district championship teams — and a Division IV, Region 15 championship and state semifinal appearance in 2021.
“Told them they left a heck of a mark on Valley baseball,” Crabtree said, of his seniors. “Can’t be prouder to have been their coach. They fought today, had a couple of breaks not go our way. Today they left it all out there — they played with everything they had for seven innings. Wheelersburg just got the best of us.”
Wheelersburg faced Harrison Central in Friday’s D-III, Region 11 championship at Beavers Field in Lancaster at 3 p.m.
Harrison Central defeated Eastern Brown 8-5 in their own Region 11 semifinal at Ohio Dominican University on Thursday — after trailing 5-1 through five complete innings.
“Regardless of who it is, when you make it to the regional championship, you know it’s going to be great baseball,” Moore said. “For us, just have to play Pirate baseball and play mistake free. Hopefully at the end of tomorrow we’re able to say we’re one step closer to our next goal.”
Valley 010 000 0 — 1 4 1
Wheelersburg 000 301 X — 4 8 0
W: Caden Conn (W) 7IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB, 3K; L: George Arnett (V) 6IP, 8H, 4ER, 3K, 0BB
Jaekyn Ridout 1-3
Carson Powell 0-2, R, BB
Tate Queen 1-3
Hunter Edwards 2-2, RBI
Connor Estep 1-3
Lane Hutchinson 2-2, 2R
Creed Warren 0-1, R
Jake Darling 2-3, R, 2RBI
Kolton Salyers 2-3, 2RBI
Owen Young 1-3
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