CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — The Wheelersburg Pirates beat the fourth-seeded West Senators 10-0 Thursday in a Division III District Semifinal match at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
The top seeded Pirates (20-5) were led by Cole Darnell and Xander Carmichael. Darnell went 2-for-2 with two RBI while Carmichael knocked in three runs on a 3-for-3 performance.
“We swung the bats really well,” Wheelersburg head coach Michael Estep said. “… I told them after the first and third innings, we made them throw upper 20s or lower 30s, so after three innings, (the West starting pitcher) was already close to 60 pitches. With the weather being the way it is, one more good 20 or 30 pitch inning, we thought we had a chance to get in the bullpen a little bit and you always want to try to expend the other team’s pitching staff as much as possible.”
On the mound, Pirate starter Kaleb Coleman only allowed three hits in his five inning, shutout performance.
“When he was ahead in the count, I thought he threw a great game,” Estep said. “Our guys played catch behind him and made routine plays. We were pretty clean for the most part. It’s exactly what you want in a tournament situation, when you only have to expend one arm and save the rest of them because you just don’t know what kind of game you’re going to get into sometimes, so to have the rest of the troops in the back pocket for Saturday for the district championship game is a good thing.”
The Pirates opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning. Trey Carter drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a Jalen Miller sacrifice bunt. Carmichael hit a line drive down the third base line, but a diving attempt by Cade McNeil saved a potential extra base hit as the third baseman kept the ball in the infield. Carter was forced to stop at third.
The momentous play was short lived for West (13-13), however, as the next batter, Darnell, promptly hit a single to right to score Carter. Wheelersburg led 1-0 after the first inning despite leaving the bases loaded.
Two innings later, the Pirates used the same recipe for success. Miller led the third from off with a walk and then proceeded to steal second. After the stolen base, Carmichael reached first after being hit by a pitch. With two on and no outs, Darnell recorded his second RBI of the contest with a single to left, which allowed Miller to score from second.
Later in the inning, with two away and Carmichael on third, Mullins singled to center to give the Pirates a 3-0 advantage.
Wheelersburg tacked on five more in the fourth inning, which began with a leadoff single by Brandon Denney who reached second on a sacrifice by Carter. With two outs, Carmichael singled to left to score Denney, which was followed by a two-out single by Coleman. A three-base error allowed Darnell and Coleman to cross the plate. The final run came in the inning when Mullins scored Dyer on a single. Wheelersburg led 8-0 after the fourth inning.
The Pirates iced the game in the fifth inning, drawing five consecutive walks and scoring the final two runs to invoke the OHSAA’s 10-run mercy rule.
While West finished the season with a .500 record, head coach Chris Rapp said the experience was invaluable for his young ball club.
“This is a stepping stone for next year,” Rapp said. “I don’t think anybody thought we would be here this year and we had a lot of young kids. I like to say young at first, but at the end of the season they’re veterans. This is a springboard. We’ll go from here. We’ll go into next year with this on our minds. We got a taste of it and our goal is to be here again next year. This is great experience, there is nothing better than this and you’re not going to find better competition that this.”
Three players who won’t have an opportunity to return to the diamond for the Senators are Tre Patrick, Buster Boggs and Bailey Davis as the trio is set to graduate.
“Tre’s been a four-year player,” Rapp said. “I never had to raise my voice to him.” Rapp said. “He was just there everyday and he just goes the extra yard for you. Buster, it was his first year out. He came up to me and asked me if I had a place for him on the baseball team. I told him to come out and we would see what happens. He ended up as the starting first baseman. He came through several times in games with clutch hits. I still don’t think we would be here today if he hadn’t gotten the clutch hit against Portsmouth.
“Bailey Davis, Bailey just wanted to be part of the team. He worked hard in practice. He always did what we asked of him. I can’t say enough about him as well.”
As for Wheelersburg, the Pirates will return to the VA Memorial Stadium Saturday to play in the district finals, which is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Kaden Coleman is scheduled to take the mound for Estep’s club. Despite the return trip for Wheelersburg, Estep said the excitement of playing in the district finals is a feeling that will never get old.
“Each year is a new year and the opportunity to go and do that, I always remind our guys of that in each interval. Whether it’s a conference championship or a sectional championship, they’re all special,” Estep said. “You never take them for granted because you just don’t know from year to year how the ball’s going to bounce. You may go out and play a great game, and all of the sudden the kid on the mound for the other team that day throws a great game and all of the sudden, you’re on the bus.
“One of the things I’m most proud of with our guys is the intensity and the focus they come with each and every time that there is a championship moment.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1927, or on Twitter @crslone.