WHEELERSBURG — Battling.
At the end of the day, it’s really all that a coach can ask for, even when mistakes are made.
On several occasions during Friday evening’s SOC II bout against the Waverly Tigers’ baseball program, the Wheelersburg Pirates’ baseball program had to steer the ship away from rocky waters as Waverly matched a two-run first inning output with two runs of its own in the top half of the second frame, then, following four unanswered runs from Wheelersburg as the Pirates took a 6-2 lead, made things interesting as Waverly, behind two errors, two base knocks, a sacrifice fly, and a walk, cut Wheelersburg’s once-sure lead to a run — with the Tigers also putting runners on second and third base, as well — during the frame.
However, Trey Carter wasn’t about to let his work on the hill go for naught. The junior standout got back-to-back groundouts to end the Waverly threat, and Carter’s complete game, as well as a 4-for-4 game by the junior from the dish with a double and two runs scored, allowed Wheelersburg to hold on for a critical 6-5 victory over the Waverly Tigers’ baseball program on Friday evening in an SOC II bout.
For Michael Estep, the performance was a credit to the attitudes that his unit has continued to take on.
“It was a typical SOC II game,” Estep said. “The guys just don’t quit. Give Waverly credit for putting the ball in play. We’re still learning how to clean up our mistakes, not give additional people opportunities, and finish a game. That’s part of what a championship team has to try and do.
From the beginning, the Pirates’ offense proved to be on the money once again as Wheelersburg — who has scored six or more runs in all but three of its contests in 2018 — got a single back up the middle from Carter and a well-placed 5-3 sacrifice bunt that moved the junior over, which set up another bomb from — you guessed it — Cole Dyer. The senior’s 11th home run in 13 affairs, as of Friday, was absolutely drilled to dead center as the Pirates, behind their three-hole hitter in the order, took a 2-0 lead after an inning of action.
Then, after Waverly answered on back-to-back singles to lead off the inning, a credited sacrifice fly RBI from Kayne Jordan, and a base knock by Trevor Penrod to tie the score at two apiece after two frames of work, Carter, Miller, and Dyer struck again. Carter legged out a double off of his base hit to right field, and after a wild pitch, Miller brought in Carter with a sacrifice fly RBI to left field.
Following that sequence, a well hit ball by Dyer was misplayed in the middle of the infield, which allowed Carmichael to move Dyer over with his single to left. Another infield error on a Connor Mullins shot to the middle of the infield allowed the Pirates to take a 4-2 lead after three innings of work.
For the contest, Wheelersburg’s one-through-three hitters continued to do major damage, as Carter went 4-for-4 on the day with a double and two runs scored, while Miller drove in two runs on sacrifice flies and moved Carter over for a third. Dyer’s 11th homer of the year, along with two additional runs scored, rounded out a strong performance for the figures at the head of the Wheelersburg (11-4, 7-1 SOC II) offensive attack.
“Those are great at-bats,” Estep said. “At the end of the day, it might not be a 3-for-3 for each of them with three line drives, but how productive is that, to move runners and come up big when your number is called upon to hit away. All three of those guys were big for us. For Jalen, that’s why he’s in the two-hole. You have to be able to handle the bat in multiple situations. You need a guy who can get a sacrifice fly when one is needed, but you also need somebody that can move a runner into scoring position. Jalen did a great job handling all of those situations today. Cole got us ignited there in the first inning with the home run and things. It got us off to a good start. From there, it was just about trying to maintain that intensity through the game.”
Carter, however, wasn’t done showing off the competitive traits that have made the junior as good as he is as a student-athlete. After striking out the first pair of Waverly batters that he saw, the junior walked four batters and didn’t record a strikeout from there on in, but was absolutely huge when the pitches needed to be executed.
In the last three batters that the junior saw in each inning from the second to the seventh frames of action, Carter held those batters to a 1-for-15 figure with three walks and an RBI — an impressive mark for the clutch performer.
“That’s exactly what we needed,” Estep said. “I knew that Trey wasn’t satisfied with his performance the last time that he was on the hill, and I knew that he was chomping at the bit to get back on the mound, so we got him back out there on Tuesday against South Webster and got a couple of innings of work out of him. He did a good job of keeping a strong Waverly team, who is solid throughout the lineup and have no easy outs, so he really had to grind it out through every pitch. Through the middle innings, he strung together a couple of 10 to 12-pitch innings, which got our guys right back in the dugout, and kept the momentum on our side.”
However, Carter also benefited from excellent plays by the defense, especially in the infield. In back-to-back innings (the fifth and the sixth), Dyer charged two softly hit groundballs to make two insanely good barehanded throws from the third base line to the first base bag, while Mullins fully extended himself to make an excellent diving catch to begin the sixth frame on what looked to be a sure base hit. Miller also had several strong putouts from his shortstop position, and Athan Temponeras made a critical catch while battling the sun and with the ball tailing away from him in the second inning to end a bases loaded threat.
“We expect those guys to go out and make those plays,” Estep said. “We practice those plays with hit baseballs right and left. Still, to go out and make those plays in a game situation says a lot about the athleticism of our kids and the competitiveness and things. In these types of games, when balls are going to be hit, the person getting the glove on the ball better be making a play.”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Wheelersburg added two crucial insurance runs that would prove to be especially crucial looking back on the contest. A leadoff double by Temponeras was followed by a single from Dahm, which set the tempo for the bottom of the same frame, even though Temponeras was caught in a 9-2-5 rundown. A balk following Dahm’s base hit allowed the junior to advance to third (Dahm advanced to second on the throw home to catch Temponeras in a rundown), and, after a hit by pitch, Jarrett Stamper stepped in and delivered in a crucial spot by sending a one-out base hit through the left side of the diamond. Miller then followed two batters later with a sacrifice fly to score Jaydren Guthrie as the Pirates took a 6-2 advantage after six innings of work.
“We said, ‘We’re playing for a run, we’re playing for a run,’” Estep said. “Jarrett was in a situation where he was able to put a ball in play, and, after fighting off two pitches, got us another insurance run. For a young sophomore to be able to shake off those two foul balls, and swing the bat in a big moment and get us an insurance run, was huge. I’m really proud of the mental toughness that Jarrett showed there. He’s probably 165, 170 pounds soaking wet back there, and he’s caught almost every inning of every game even with the inclement weather and things that have backed up some of the games. He doesn’t complain a bit. He squats down back there and blocks balls up and things. He’s growing each day. I’m really proud of the toughness that he’s shown through the first half of the season here.”
Still, Waverly proved to be a tough out.
After an error allowed Penrod to reach, a single by Ian Gillen and a walk to Clayton Howell loaded the bases for Talon Osborne, who proceeded to launch a blast to dead center that missed clearing the center field fence by less than 20 feet. While Osborne had to settle for the sacrifice fly RBI, another error and an RBI single quickly put Waverly in serious business as the Tigers ultimately put the tying and go-ahead runners on second and third base. Carter, however, continued to prove to the crowd in the attendance of his mental mindset as the junior obtained a pair of groundouts to preserve the victory.
“I thought that Trey showed a great deal of poise,” Estep said. “Sometimes, guys will express their frustrations nonverbally with a head down or slumped shoulders, but he and the guys behind him kept figuring out what needed to be done to execute pitches and things, and as a result, we ended up getting groundballs all the way to the end. That’s what good pitchers do. They battle through the tough times. I’m really proud of the performance that Trey put together today.”
With the victory, Wheelersburg moved to 11-3 overall and 7-1 in the SOC II, and, despite falling to Newport Central Catholic by an 8-5 tally on Saturday afternoon, finished last week with a 5-1 overall record. The Pirates will travel to Waverly for another crucial SOC II bout, with a win setting Wheelersburg up to share the SOC II crown with Minford and a loss giving the controls of the conference race to the Falcons.
But if Thursday evening’s victory, a 10-6 win over the Morehead (Ky.) Rowan County Vikings’ baseball program, was any indication, Wheelersburg — who came back from a 6-1 deficit by scoring nine unanswered runs, including six in the fifth inning, will be a tough out.
“I was really proud of the fight that our guys showed,” Estep said. “I wasn’t proud of how we put ourselves in that position, but overall, when you’re playing games nearly every day, it’s taxing. These kids aren’t just running out here, playing baseball, and sleeping in during the morning hours. They’re getting up, taking state tests on flex schedules, and have to stay up and study on top of that. I’m really proud of the guys for the effort that they have put forth.”