Pirates right ship vs. Valley


Wheelersburg senior Landon Hutchinson (10)

Courtesy of Guy Queen

LUCASVILLE — Following the first inning on Monday, it had to feel like the Pirates’ ship —captained again by senior pitcher Caden Conn —was taking on some proverbial water.

Leave it to Conn, and his senior-laden Pirate baseball teammates, to quickly steer Wheelersburg back out of troubled territory.

So much so, the experienced Pirates plated the final six runs over the final six innings, and ended up doubling up the young Valley Indians 6-3 — completing the Southern Ohio Conference Division III sweep in the process at Valley High School’s Reservation.

That’s right —as Conn was the artist of remaining zeroes for the Indians, the Pirates posted one run apiece in the second, fourth, fifth and seventh stanzas, around a two-step spot to break a 3-3 tie in the sixth.

The most important hit of the game was Wheelersburg senior Rowdy Watkins’ two-run single off Valley relief pitcher Nolan Barnett — in the sixth as Isaac Bockway doubled to lead off, and Creed Warren followed with an infield hit on a bunt.

Jack Picklesimer pinch ran for Bockway, with Warren and him scoring the go-ahead runs.

Meanwhile, Conn overcame three Pirate fielding errors after the first —and locked down the Indians for a third-inning Tate Queen single and a Jace Copley double until the seventh.

Conn retired the Indians 1-2-3 in the second and sixth, faced only four in the fifth, and stranded seven runners altogether —striking out nine of the 32 batters he faced.

Wheelersburg senior pitcher Caden Conn

Courtesy of Guy Queen

Still, he had to pitch out of one last two-out jam in the seventh —as Queen walked and Barnett singled to center.

That brought the tying run to the plate, but Conn induced Copley to ground into a 6-4 fielder’s choice to end the game.

With the win, and the regular-season sweep of the Indians, Wheelersburg raised its record to 10-1 —and to 6-0 in the first-year SOC III.

With only 10 league games now compared to 16 of the recent past, the Pirates keep closing in on that SOC III championship — as the other five teams have at least two league losses.

The Pirates prevailed 4-3 in the opening matchup against the Indians in 11 innings —winning with Picklesimer scoring on a passed ball, and beating the darkness on March 27.

In that contest, the Pirates erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 —and also made four errors behind Conn.

But the resiliency which won Wheelersburg that game, the Pirates apparently bottled it up —and brought it with them to The Reservation on Monday.

“With this group, we love our guys, but sometimes it’s not the easiest. Today was one of those days where it just wasn’t easy at all. But the one thing about this group, and I’ve said it all year and I said it the last time we played them (Indians), is the resiliency,” said Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore. “Like last time, we’re not as clean as we need to be defensively. That’s way too many errors in our book. But the thing that makes me most proud is even though we had those errors, Caden (Conn) never stopped being Caden. You can tell maybe he got frustrated, but he continued to fight and he got stronger as the game went on. Gives up three in the first, then throws up zeroes the rest of the game. And they had guys in scoring position in different innings. To be honest, when we had to, our defense stepped up and made plays. Like the first game with them.”

Wheelersburg first baseman Owen Young (14) catches a throw from shortstop Connor Estep as part of the Pirates’ Southern Ohio Conference Division III baseball game against Valley on Monday.

Courtesy of Guy Queen

Of the seven that Conn stranded, Valley left runners at second and third in the third, at first and second in the fourth, at second in the fifth following Queen reaching on an error and stealing second, and the aforementioned seventh inning with runners on the corners.

Valley coach Nolan Crabtree knew his Indians indeed had their chances.

“We had runners on base and we had multiple opportunities, several in scoring position. We have to keep working to come through with the big hit. That’s what has to happen,” said Crabtree. “Those are the things that once they start happening, it’s contagious and it starts trickling down through the order.”

Valley sent seven batters to the dish against Conn in the first, as Jaekyn Ridout doubled to the right-field gap to lead off —and scored on a steal of third combined with a throwing error.

With two outs, Barnett walked and Copley reached on an infield hit, as Conn’s counterpart —Valley sophomore starting pitcher Carson Powell — singled to score Barnett, and Copley combined with Powell for a double steal for the third run.

Valley senior Jace Copley slides past the tag of Wheelersburg catcher Jake Darling during Monday’s Southern Ohio Conference Division III baseball game at Valley High School.

Courtesy of Guy Queen

But, after that, it was the Pirates chipping away against Powell.

“We continued to fight. It’s tough sledding to come back, especially after giving up three in the first and when they have pitching arms like Powell. But I thought we had a good approach and good mentality at the plate,” said Moore. “Plays in the field might not have always went in our favor, but our group stayed cool. When we needed to make a big defensive play we did. When we needed a big hit, we got it.”

With two outs in the second, Bockway doubled and Warren singled him home.

In the fourth, Kolton Salyers reached on an infield hit to lead off, Powell hit Conn with a pitch, and both runners —including pinch runner Jake Clevenger for Salyers —advanced on a wild pitch.

Bockway brought Clevenger in with a sacrifice fly.

In the fifth, Powell walked Cameron Conn, Landon Hutchinson moved Conn over with a sacrifice bunt, and Connor Estep doubled to right center to cross Conn for the 3-3 tie.

Powell exited two batters later —working four and two-thirds frames, walking two, scattering six hits, and striking out four of the 23 batters he faced.

Valley sophomore pitcher Carson Powell

Courtesy of Guy Queen

Against the right-handed sophomore sidearmer Barnett in the sixth, the Pirates pressed ahead —with Watkins’ two-run single.

Watkins then struck again in the seventh, as Bockway singled and Warren reached on an infield hit —and Watkins singled again, this time with two outs, scoring the sixth Pirate point.

The Pirates doubled up the Indians in hits 13-6, as Watkins wound up with three runs batted in —as the designated hitter Bockway and Warren wound up with three hits apiece.

Watkins, Estep and Landon Hutchinson each had two hits, as Estep and Jake Darling drew walks.

“Their offensive mindset is one thing this group has really taken ownership in. I feel like we’re doing a whole lot better. Rowdy Watkins came up huge and he is our nine-hole hitter. I’ve told people it’s like having a double-leadoff hitter. He’s batting ninth, but has been huge all year. Then you have guys like Isaac Bockway who was on base the whole time. Connor Estep coming up with big hits. Landon Hutchinson had a big hit early. Creed Warren got on base,” raved Moore. “It was a full team effort. We know when we play those guys (Indians), it’s going to be a tough one. This group never panicked. I might have got frustrated, but they continue to keep even-keel. We found a way.”

Speaking of frustration, that set in for the Indians all game —as Valley’s catching breaks on Monday was indeed few and far between.

The loss left the Indians at 2-5, and 1-3 in the SOC III, with two league tilts currently suspended —and needing to be completed on future dates.

“The frustrating thing was that there were a lot of little things that happened tonight which were out of our control,” said Crabtree. “That was building up. You want a break here and there, and every game we’ve lost this year is this same kind of M.O. We’ve been in the games, have held leads, been fighting and having a chance. It’s the amount of tough luck that we’ve had is going to turn at some point. We’re in games, we’re playing well, we’re not perfect, we’re young, but we’re going to keep fighting and we’re going to be fine. I know we’re going to be a team that a lot of teams don’t want to face here in a few weeks (Division III postseason tournament).”

Before that, the Indians are at South Webster on Wednesday in SOC III play — as their scoreless and suspended game with Waverly will pick up in the eighth inning on April 25.

Valley also leads West with a 3-1 edge in another suspended SOC game —with that completion date to be determined.

Valley senior shortstop Jaekyn Ridout (8)

Courtesy of Guy Queen

“We’re just going to keep plugging along and keep working. I am proud of our kids for the way they fought tonight. We put ourselves in good positions and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Crabtree. “We just had a lot of tough breaks and things that were out of our control. Those are things you preach to these guys that’s how the game is sometimes.”

And right now, the Pirates’ ship is sailing straight towards another SOC championship.

Wheelersburg will be back in action, and back in conference competition, against Minford on Wednesday.

“We still have a long season ahead. We’re going enjoy the heck out of this win, though. Definitely a good win,” said Moore. “I’m super-proud of our resiliency, but we have continue to sharpen up to play better baseball down the stretch.”

* * *

Wheelersburg 010 112 1 —6 13 4

Valley 300 000 0 —3 6 0

WHS: Caden Conn 7IP, 3R, 3ER, 6H, 0HB, 2BB, 0IBB, 0WP, 9K, 32BF

VHS: Carson Powell 4 2/3IP, 3R, 3ER, 6H, 1HB, 2BB, 0IBB, 1WP, 4K, 23BF; Nolan Barnett 2IP, 3R, 3ER, 6H, 0HB, 1BB, 0IBB, 0WP, 0K, 12BF; Gabe McNeil 1/3IP, 0R, 0ER, 1H, 0HB, 0BB, 0IBB, 0WP, 0K, 2BF

W —Caden Conn; 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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