‘Burg beats rain, blanks Falcons


MINFORD — A week ago against visiting Valley, the Wheelersburg Pirates did beat the darkness — and defeated the young Indians in 11 innings.

This time on Monday night, at the Falcons’ Nest at Minford High School, the Pirates did beat the rain —and blanked the determined Falcons 3-0.

Some common denominators: Wheelersburg senior left-hander Caden Conn pitched another gem, the Pirates pounded out at least eight hits, and both baseball victories were the first for the Pirates in the first-year Southern Ohio Conference Division III.

Wheelersburg now 4-1 and 2-0 in SOC III while Minford — which shut out West 4-0 a week ago — is now 3-1 and 1-1 in the SOC III.

But, unfortunately for the Falcons, they were the ones being shut out on Monday —as ominous rain clouds hung over Minford, which didn’t let loose until long after the game was over.

In their marathon win over Valley, the Pirates didn’t score until the fifth frame —then bookended the game-tying and game-winning runs around three scoreless extra innings.

Against Minford, the Pirates played the Falcons for a scoreless contest through the opening five innings —as Jake Darling’s double down the left-field line in the fourth was Wheelersburg’s opening hit.

They then had back-to-back one-out singles by Creed Warren and Rowdy Watkins, but the Falcons thwarted the threat —with an inning-ending 4-6-2 double play.

But against Minford senior pitcher Cam Thacker, in the sixth, the Pirates finally broke through —with two unearned runs on three hits and a wild pitch, both runs scoring on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Caden Conn and which was scored a Falcon error.

In the seventh, the Pirates plated an insurance marker for the 3-0 final —when freshman Cameron Conn doubled to left with one out, and Connor Estep smacked a double to the left-centerfield gap to cross Conn.

Meanwhile, Caden Conn, the senior left-hander, finished off a complete-game three-hit shutout, allowing only four Falcon baserunners —a single by Thacker in the second and a leadoff single in the fourth by Mason Book before the seventh.

In Minford’s last at-bat, Grant Wheeler reached on an error to lead off —and Thacker singled with one out.

But on Thacker’s single, and between a pair of Falcon flyouts, the Pirates tagged out Minford pinch-runner Mark Napier between second and third.

Hence, in the scorebook, Thacker’s at-bat was scored a single —and an 8-4-5-4 putout.

In the recordbook, conversely, it was Wheelersburg’s second SOC III win in as many games —tough ones at that.

After all, Wheelersburg was last year’s big-school SOC (SOC II) champion —as this season marks the first for (SOC) baseball being a three-division setup.

Joining the 10-senior strong Pirates are Minford, Valley, West, South Webster and Waverly.

“This was more of ‘Pirate baseball’ in my opinion. We cleaned up the defensive part, Caden (Conn) threw strikes, and we hit the ball around the yard in the last four innings. When you have eight hits in a game against a great opponent like that, good things should happen,” said Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore.

Wheelersburg certainly did have one good thing —that being the workhorse southpaw Conn.

He retired the Falcons in order in innings one, three, five and six —and did not walk a batter while striking six out.

“Even though he (Conn) has been really good so far for us this year, that’s the Caden that was all of last year. The stats he had last year, those speak for themselves. To try to duplicate that is kind of unheard of. So he had to just go out there with no reason to press and just believe in himself and just be him. He commanded the strike zone all night with no walks and 6 Ks (strikeouts) and four baserunners,” raved Moore, of Conn. “Defense was great behind him. Caden kept us in the game and the offense came alive late. But when you have Caden on the mound, you’re in good hands.”

Minford second-year coach Eli Daniels concurred.

“We didn’t get any runs, but I thought we competed very well against Caden. He is a very good pitcher. One of the best in Southern Ohio. I think we were trying to pull away balls and were swinging at some dumb pitches sometimes, but that’s baseball,” said Daniels. “When you get your chances, you have to take them. We didn’t tonight.”

Thacker, in emergency relief of an injured Ty Borland after one inning, tossed a solid game as well —with eight hits allowed and a seventh-inning inconsequential walk to Darling.

He fanned five, as all three Pirate points occurred with two outs.

“Cam went in there and just threw a gem. Pitched a great game. He really commanded the strike zone well. Even down in the count, he battled back and got a rollover or a popout. I thought Cam did tremendous tonight,” said Daniels. “He did get a little tired towards the end, he did throw 92 pitches in six innings. A few balls he left up, and nine times out of 10 if you do that, that ball is going to get hit.”

Thacker, in fact, retired the opening seven Pirates he saw before Darling’s double —and 10 of the first 11.

He left six Wheelersburg runners on base.

“I hated what happened to Ty (Borland) tonight, but Cam (Thacker) came in and kept us off-balance early. You have to give him credit. Our guys were saying he threw four or five different breaking balls. When you can throw those for strikes, at the high school level, that’s tough,” said Moore. “But our guys stuck with the gameplan, found a way to get some guys on, strung together some hits, and good things happened.”

As for the ace Borland, he retired the first two Pirates —then walked Estep as Darling reached on the first Falcon error, before a fielder’s choice at third base.

But Borland exited after that, unable to pitch without experiencing pain as he warmed up for the second stanza.

“Ty said he had some elbow discomfort. He said nothing popped on him, but he said when he pitched, there was a lot of pain,” explained Daniels. “Cautionary to take him out, because we have a long season ahead of us. We don’t know anything more yet, but at least nothing popped.”

Thacker held down the Falcon fort well until the sixth —when with one out Estep singled to left, and Darling dropped a single into shallow centerfield.

Jake Clevenger came in to pinch run for Estep, as both baserunners advanced a bag on the game’s only wild pitch.

Conn then rolled a hard-hit grounder to third, as the at-bat resulted in an error —and the quick Clevenger and Darling both raced around to score.

It was just the breakthrough Wheelersburg was looking for —as Isaac Bockway also singled in the inning.

“We ended up running Jake Clevenger there, even though Connor (Estep) is probably our best baserunner, he still is coming off that knee (ACL injury sustained during football season). Caden come up and hit the ball hard and put it in play. We tell our guys that if we don’t hit the ball in the air and we hit it hard, good things can happen. Caden hit that ball hard and two runs scored,” said Moore.

“Timely hitting right there. You can’t ask for much more than a hard hit ball if you’re on their side,” said Daniels. “I wish we would would have made the play, but we didn’t. Got to move on to the next hitter at that point.”

The next hitters were in the next, and last, inning — when Cameron Conn and Estep doubled to produce the third run.

“Connor (Estep) made his last two at-bats count. That was a big swing to give us an extra insurance run,” said Moore. “And when we get three runs with Caden on the mound, we have a lot of confidence.”

For the Falcons, Daniels believed they gained confidence from battling The ‘Burg for so long.

Minford returns to SOC III action on Wednesday —with a trip to winless in the league South Webster.

“Wheelersburg is a very good baseball team. But I think we are right there with them. We just didn’t have the one thing go our way tonight. It is what it is,” said Daniels. “But in this league, the whole world can change tomorrow. You never know what’s going to happen. I think it could come down to the last game again.”

But the Pirates are thinking only on the next game —which is against visiting West on Wednesday.

The Senators (1-1 SOC III) scored a needed league win on Monday —defeating visiting Waverly 2-1 in walkoff fashion.

“In this league, you’re going to have your work cut out for you,” said Moore. “It doesn’t matter, night in and night out every Monday and Wednesday, you have to play your best.”

* * *

Wheelersburg 000 002 1 —3 8 1

Minford 000 000 0 — 0 3 2

WHS: Caden Conn

MHS: Ty Borland 1IP, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 0HB, 1BB, 0IBB, 0WP, 0K, 5BF; Cam Thacker 6IP, 3R, 1ER, 8H, 0HB, 1BB, 0IBB, 1WP, 5K, 27BF

WHS: Caden Conn 7IP, 0R, 0ER, 3H, 0HB, 0BB, 0IBB, 0WP, 6K, 24BF

W —Caden Conn; L —Cam Thacker

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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