‘Burg beats darkness, Valley in 11


Wheelersburg senior pitcher Caden Conn (22)

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

WHEELERSBURG — Simply put, what Wheelersburg worked Wednesday was some more of its magic —all in order to beat the darkness, and the young yet determined visiting Valley Indians.

That’s because the Pirates twice rallied from a deficit, and scored the winning run without the aid of a hit in the unbelievable 11th inning —as Wheelersburg won the first-ever Southern Ohio Conference Division III baseball bout, edging the Indians 4-3 in a marathon three-hour affair.

Yes, you read that right —Wednesday went indeed 11 innings, as the Pirates pushed across the game-winning run, and all with perhaps only five minutes of realistic daylight left.

As ace pitchers Carson Powell of Valley and Caden Conn of Wheelersburg went toe-to-toe and pitch-for-pitch through all seven regulation innings, and relievers Nolan Barnett of Valley and Cooper Heimbach for the Indians entered in extras, the score stood tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th.

With darkness descending upon Wheelersburg, and both teams informed that the 11th would be the final frame for Wednesday, the Pirates made sure to end it right then and there.

Against Barnett, who was pitching in his fourth inning of relief for Powell, the Pirates made outs with their first two batters —but Barnett walked his counterpart Heimbach to keep the game going.

With junior Jack Picklesimer pinch-running for Heimbach, the Pirates loaded the bases against Barnett —as Connor Estep reached on the Indians’ second error, and Jake Darling was intentionally walked by Barnett to face Kolton Salyers.

But with the bases loaded, the sophomore Barnett couldm’t issue a walk, or hit a batter, or balk, or throw a wild pitch.

Instead, Picklesimer —trying to bait Barnett with a long lead off third base —raced home on what was officially scored as a passed ball.

With that, the Pirates —the defending big-school SOC champions from last season (SOC II in 2023) —moved to 2-0, having won a 15-14 Saturday slugfest against Buckeye Valley at Chillicothe’s VA Memorial Stadium.

But with 10 seniors on a roster of 15 —with Picklesimer, fellow junior Jake Clevenger, Heimbach, fellow sophomore Brady Doss and sole freshman Cameron Conn the underclassmen — Wheelersburg’s Wednesday win likely meant more.

For starters, the Pirates didn’t defensively play their best, committing four errors —two of which led to the Indians taking their 3-2 lead in the sixth on an unearned run.

In addition, the tradition-rich Pirates play with a constant target on their backs —and their experience was indeed tested against the Indians, whose only senior this season is standout catcher Jace Copley.

Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore knew that his Pirates were in quite the battle with Valley.

“Just a really good baseball game. I want to give a lot of credit to Carson (Powell). As a sophomore, he is a super-polished pitcher. He is going to be a really great arm in this league and in this area and he will do a lot of great things down the road and at the college level as well. At the same time, my guys are just a resilient bunch. Caden (Conn), if you ask him and in my opinion, probably didn’t have his best stuff. He got behind in some counts, and defensively I didn’t think we were great. Four errors is too many in my book. But Caden was very resilient, he started to put up zeros on the board, the defense started to make plays when we needed,” said Moore. “Just happy to get a win, and super-proud of the fight that they showed.”

Against the senior left-hander Conn, the Indians scored once in the first — as Gabe McNeil singled before Tate Queen doubled him home.

Valley sophomore Gabe McNeil scores the Indians’ opening run during their Southern Ohio Conference Division III baseball game against Wheelersburg on Wednesday at Wheelersburg High School.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

In the third, McNeil scored again —when he reached on a fielder’s choice, advanced to second and third on two wild pitches, and crossed on Queen’s sacrifice fly.

The Pirates tied it in the fifth at 2-2, on three singles and the Indians’ initial error, but back came Valley in the sixth —going back ahead 3-2 as it loaded the bases on two Pirate errors and a Conn intentional walk to his counterpart Powell.

Queen then scored the go-ahead run —on a Nick Queen RBI bloop-single.

But the Indians left the bases loaded in the sixth —after leaving runners aboard in the first in scoring position, then McNeil in the fifth after he singled for his second of a team-high three hits.

The Pirates, which stranded 11 runners as Barnett entered in the eighth and retired 11 of his first 12, tied it again the seventh —when they loaded the bases on a Cole Estep single, Powell hitting Darling with a pitch, and Salyers safely reaching on an infield hit.

Conn’s cause he aided himself —with a sacrifice fly to left field to cross Creed Warren.

Wheelersburg senior second baseman Creed Warren (20)

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

The Indians got a baserunner apiece in innings eight, nine and especially 10, but Barnett’s pinch runner in the eighth was left stranded at third —and the Pirates put out Indians apiece in the ninth and 10th.

Conn pitched the opening eight and two-thirds for Wheelersburg, allowing two earned runs on seven hits with one hit batsmen, an intentional walk and three wild pitches.

He struck out six of the 36 Indians he faced —seeing the Valley lineup three times through.

Unofficially, he exited at 119 total pitches thrown.

Heimbach struck out three of the seven he saw, going the final two-and-a-third for the win.

Moore said his seniors’ experience often overcame mistakes made.

“Even though our defense wasn’t up to our standard at times, when we needed to make plays and get outs, I think what you saw today was a lot of seniors who have played in those types of moments make plays when we needed them,” said the coach.

Perhaps the Pirates’ most critical defensive play occurred in the 10th —as McNeil managed a leadoff bloop single, squarely behind the third-base bag that landed on the infield dirt and inches away from the outfield grass.

A wild pitch moved McNeil to second, and he advanced to third on a Tate Queen groundout, but unfortunately for the Indians, Barnett missed a sign on the next at-bat —presuming perhaps for a squeeze bunt.

McNeil was caught in a rundown between third and home, as the catcher Darling and third baseman Isaac Bockway combined for the 2-5 second out.

“We missed a sign. Plain and simple we missed a sign,” said Valley coach Nolan Crabtree. “There were plenty of other mistakes, but that one was just a missed sign.”

Heimbach struck out Barnett, ending the Indians’ last best chance.

Valley stranded seven runners all told.

Crabtree complimented his youthful Indians on how they fought for all 11 innings.

Valley is now 0-3 following Wednesday’s loss — with the opening two setbacks by a combined three runs in a wooden-bat triangular at Ironton on Saturday (4-3 loss to Ironton and 2-0 to West Jefferson).

“There were plays throughout where our youth and inexperience got to us. It happens. When you coach a young team, you weight the intensity against propping them up and everything. But sometimes, we have to know. My kids just played their butts off and played an excellent ballgame. We did a great job against one of the best pitchers (Conn) in Southeastern Ohio tonight. Really forced him to earn everything. Didn’t have a few breaks, but that’s part of the game,” said Crabtree. “Wheelersburg is a tough team, and it’s a hard place to come here and get a win. It was just unfortunate with the way our pitchers threw…Carson pitched well and Barney (Barnett) was incredible. It’s a two-out walk and ultimately a passed ball that loses the game. I’m proud of our kids and we’re going to get better, because we started six sophomores and freshmen tonight. We’re going to be fine, but there’s going to be some growing pains.”

Powell pitched the first seven —scattering nine hits and one walk while hitting two.

Valley sophomore pitcher Carson Powell (2)

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

He faced 34 Pirates, and like Conn threw three wild pitches with six strikeouts.

Crabtree considered pitching Powell into the eighth, but that his pitch count was already high.

It was within reason until the fifth —when Wheelersburg’s Rowdy Watkins and Landon Hutchinson singled back-to-back to lead off, and Estep singled down the third-base line with one out to plate Watkins.

Darling then reached on a fielding error, as Hutchinson sprinted from second — scoring the unearned run for the 2-2 tie.

Of the Pirates’ 10 hits, Salyers led the way with three — including a pair of infield singles.

Wheelersburg senior Kolton Salyers slides into third base during the Pirates’ Southern Ohio Conference Division III baseball game against Valley on Wednesday at Wheelersburg High School.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

“Carson was just shy of his (pitch count) limit, but he went longer than I really wanted him to,” said Crabtree. “I felt like our emotions, at times, let the game get away from us. It takes a few minutes mentally to put things back together. I felt like we got a down a little bit, but we’re facing really good pitching. It’s the little things right now that we’ll get better at, but sometimes that inexperience shines through.”

Indeed, the shine from the sun was bright on Wednesday —before darkness decided to make its way inward.

Still, the Pirates beat that darkness —working what seems to be sometimes simply destined magic.

“We’ve known the last four or five years that when we play Valley, it’s going to be this type of game, coming down to one run. You have to take advantage of mistakes, and we found a way to win,” said Moore. “Give our guys a bunch of credit. I think besides maybe one guy on our bench, we had guys come in and contribute. It was a full 15 guys team effort. Super proud of them. We have a lot of things to clean up, but it’s much better having to clean things up when you get a win.”

* * *

Valley 101 001 000 00 —3 8 2

Wheelersburg 000 020 100 01 —4 10 4

VHS: Carson Powell 7IP, 3R, 2ER, 9H, 2HB, 1BB, 0IBB, 3WP, 6K, 34BF; Nolan Barnett 4IP, 1R, 0ER, 1H, 0HB, 1BB, 1IBB, 0WP, 4K, 15BF

WHS: Caden Conn 8 2/3IP, 3R, 2ER, 7H, 1HB, 0BB, 1IBB, 3WP, 6K, 36BF; Cooper Heimbach 2 1/3 IP, 0R, 0ER, 1H, 0HB, 0BB, 0IBB, 1WP, 3K, 7BF

W —Cooper Heimbach; L —Nolan Barnett

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on X @paulboggssports © 2024 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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