LLOYD – Thursday’s win over Ashland isn’t just one that the Wheelersburg Pirates wanted, it’s one they needed. Yes, the Pirates 3-2 win over the Tomcats (9-5, winners of their last five before Thursday) in the Peoples Bank Classic held at Greenup County High School is a non-league win, but it’s the kind of win that the Pirates will need come tournament time in three weeks.
Put Thursday’s win in conjuncture with their 2-0 shutout victory of Minford last Friday and all of a sudden, the Pirates are becoming one of the most battle tested teams in our area, and maybe more importantly one of the most battle proven.
“We found a way, I’m so proud of these guys,” said Pirates head coach Derek Moore following Thursday’s win. “Credit to Ashland, the guy they had on the mound was great. This was a tournament style ball game. This is what we’re going to see, this is what we’re going to be ready for with hopefully a long postseason run come May.”
Thursday’s win may have been of the come from behind variety, but the Pirates actually got on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the first inning. In that frame, Connor Mullins walked with one out and steadily moved the bases until he scored on a sac fly from Cole Ratcliff.
“If you look at this stats, I’m not sure many people would think he’s a four hole,” Moore said. “But we love him. He’ll find a way to produce runs: whether it’s sac flies, base hits, or moving runners when we need them. He’s a tough out, and a tough out is what we love in our four hole.”
Ratcliff drove in the game’s first run in Mullins, and also pitched a very solid from the mound. For the game, the junior pitched the first four innings against the Tomcats allowing just three hits and no earned runs while striking out five Ashland batters.
“Showed a lot about his character in his performance today. He was getting a little frustrated with himself because he knew he was missing some balls up, with a team like that you can’t miss the ball up because they’ve got a lot of great hitters. But he battled through adversity and found a way. Four scoreless innings is huge, especially when we’re playing five games in six days.”
Wheelersburg surrendered two runs in the top of the fifth inning on four hits from the Ashland lineup. Now facing a 2-1 deficit, instead of taking the easy way out and not fighting back, Wheelersburg rallied for a two run sixth inning that helped propel them to their 3-2 win.
Starting the scoring off for the Pirates was Connor Mullins who touched home plate for the second time, first since the first inning, on a passed ball and Will Darling who scored on a ball put in play by Athan Temponeras that went through Ashland second baseman Jacob Cox’ legs, pushing the Pirates ahead by a run.
“We were right here, and I told the guys that we just had to find a way,” Moore said. “Get on base and see what we can do. Connor stepped up big with a double, Jalen stepped up big laying that bunt down to move him to third. Got him in to tie the game. And then have Athan Temponeras step up. Yes it was an error, but stepped up, put the ball in play and forced them to make a play, and they didn’t so it worked out for us.”
Thursday’s win is a big one. Ashland has wins against Rowan County and Lawrence County, two likely regional champions in the 16th and 15th regions respectively. But with upcoming games against SOC II rival Waverly and Saturday again against Johnson Central, another favorite in Kentucky’s 15th region, Moore knows his team will have to have a short memory.
“Lot of confidence after this one,” Moore said. “This week is a five game week, so we have to keep looking ahead. We’ve had a couple of games in a row where it’s tournament type, that gives you an edge when it gets to that time. Get to go against tournament arms and have to grind away at bats. All starts back with a tough, tough conference game tomorrow at Waverly, and then back here Saturday against Johnson Central who I heard is pretty good here in Kentucky.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @Jacob SmithPDT