CHILLICOTHE — By this point in time, it’s almost sounding like a broken record.
However, there may not be a truer phrase spoken than the fact that Wheelersburg is good at baseball.
On Saturday afternoon, the Wheelersburg Pirates continued their long line of making life miserable for their fellow Southeast District opponents by taking home their 10th district title — in a row — behind a 3-0 victory over the Adena Warriors in a Division III, Southeast I District Championship affair at VA Memorial Stadium.
For Michael Estep, the win was gratifying simply due to the fact that the Pirates played flawless baseball throughout the affair against a unit that prides itself on being exceptional at the little things.
“From the beginning of my career here at Wheelersburg to this day, we’ve definitely had some battles with Adena over the years,” Estep said. “They’ve been someone that we’ve run into quite a bit. They’ve done a good job over there, even with some different guys in terms of their coaching staff, but seems like every year, they seem to find themselves in the district title game or further. It speaks volumes to Adena’s youth program and the job that their parents do within the Adena community. They have a very proud baseball tradition, and always have. It wasn’t unfamiliar waters for us today at all. It just always seems like it’s a battle when we play Adena. It’s just two proud baseball communities going at it. I just like the competition that is brought out when we meet.”
Defensively, Wheelersburg proved to be stellar all game long as the Pirates didn’t commit an error all game long and made several big league plays in the field, with a line drive catch by Cole Dyer and a brilliant catch by Connor Mullins — the latter play leading to a double play — heading the charge. Cole Darnell also joined in on the fun by making two excellent defensive plays in catching a high popup in foul territory — with his bare hand — and robbing Bowen Dratwa of a base hit with his three-unassisted pick at first base.
“Our guys prepare,” Estep said. “They really do. They’re expected to go out and make plays, even in a tournament situation. It helps that we’ve been through some of these situations and have a few older guys to bring these younger guys along each year. We have two sophomores sitting out there in the middle of the infield and a first-year third baseman out there, and they have just continued to get better and better as the year has gone on. Routine plays are something that we’re making at a pretty high clip right now.
It also didn’t hurt that Kaden Coleman followed up a stellar complete game performance by Kaleb Coleman with one of his own. Kaden threw seven complete innings of four-hit baseball while striking out three Warriors and not allowing a single Adena batter to reach base via a walk.
“Kaden did such a good job today,” Estep said. “He only went full count on Adena’s hitters once or twice all game. He was very efficient. Our guys made plays behind him, and that’s what you have to do in a tournament game.”
The defense also responded to adversity. When Adena reached base by getting a runner on via a single in the second, third, fifth, and sixth innings of play, Kaden Coleman and the Wheelersburg defense responded by sitting down each of the next six batters that the Pirates faced after each of the base hits to keep the Warriors off of the scoreboard.
“Teams in this tournament are going to push a hit across here or there and make a play,” Estep said. “It’s just all about how you respond in postseason situations. You’ve got to come back and make the next play. That’s what I talked to our guys about before the game. Championship moments always present some type of adversity, whether it’s a defensive situation, a strikezone situation, or a bang-bang call at a base. Sometimes, things aren’t going to go in your favor, and you can’t dwell on it, because the next pitch is so important. It’s always been a next-pitch philosophy and about making sure that our guys are tuned into that so that we can have a short memory.”
With Wheelersburg playing at its very best from a pitching and defensive standpoint, the Pirates made the 3-0 affair feel much more like a 10-0 count than what the final score indicated once the Pirates obtained the lead. Wheelersburg took the lead for good in the bottom half of the second, when a two-out single by Brandon Denney allowed Kaden Coleman — who reached base on an infield single and advanced to second on a hit by pitch — to score from second base as the Pirates took a 1-0 advantage.
In the fourth inning of play, Wheelersburg used the bottom of the order to get the ball rolling again. After another hit by pitch allowed Cam Howard to reach base, the center fielder stole second, advanced to third on an error, and came home on a passed ball to put the Pirates up by a 2-0 margin after four complete.
Overall, Mullins, Denney, and Howard — the seven-through-nine batters in the Pirates’ order — were exceptionally productive all game long, as the trio reached base six times altogether. Denney’s RBI and Howard’s stolen base rounded out an excellent showing for the bottom of the Wheelersburg order.
“They came up big for us in clutch situations,” Estep said. “Whether it was drawing a walk or receiving a clutch two-out hit by Brandon Denney, who, as a senior, came up big with a senior at-bat in the second inning, they were big for us all game long. I’m really proud of Brandon for cracking the ice for us and for getting us on the board there. Anytime that you can push across a run in a two-out situation in a tournament game, it kind of takes a little bit of air out of the sails of the other team.”
With Wheelersburg well in control, the Pirates were able to cruise along to the victory, but not before putting together another insurance run in the fifth inning. A hit by pitch, along with a double to right field from Darnell, allowed Kaden Coleman to bring Xander Carmichael home with his RBI base knock to right field for the game’s final run.
Wheelersburg’s 3-0 victory in the Division III, Southeast I District Finals allows the Pirates to return to the hallowed grounds of VA Memorial Stadium on Thursday evening, where the Pirates will play fellow Scioto Valley Conference (SVC) hand Zane Trace, who took home the Division III, Southeast II District Championship earlier in the day with a 5-3 victory over Minford.
Estep expects a tough challenge — especially from a hitting standpoint — from a unit that has won 12 out of its last 14 games.
“That is (Ron) Allen’s trademark,” Estep said. “His teams always swing the bats well. It’s been a couple of years since we have played Zane Trace in the postseason, but the last time that we played them, I felt like they were hitting every other ball into the gap some place and running all over the place. We’re going to have to do a good job of mixing speeds and things of that nature. Hopefully, our pitchers can take control with their command, and we’ll roll it out there and see what happens. For now, we’ll rest up, enjoy this one today, take a day off tomorrow, get back at it on Monday and prepare.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7