CHILLICOTHE — With Wheelersburg book-ending weekends by playing two games inside Chillicothe’s VA Memorial Stadium, the ambitious Pirates — playing their first game like everybody else in two years on Saturday night — encountered perhaps their most difficult opponent on their entire 2021 schedule with their season opener.
However, they made no apologies and simply tipped their caps to the better team, which was the Hilliard Darby Panthers with Wright State signee Andrew Patrick.
That’s because the Panthers, a Division I Final Four club from two years ago, picked up from where they left off with winning games — as they doubled up Wheelersburg 6-3 in Saturday’s nightcap as part of the First National Bank of Waverly Baseball Classic.
The Pirates, like all other baseball teams throughout the state, did not get to have a 2020 season —as the Ohio High School Athletic Association cancelled the season in response to the coronavirus threat.
But ‘Burg and baseball both were back on Saturday night, and —in typical 2020 to 2021 form —had to wait an additional two hours for their first pitch.
The Pirates and Panthers were scheduled to start at 7 p.m. as the fifth and final game, but because of foggy conditions in the morning moving back the first pitch of the first game over an hour — Wheelersburg and Darby didn’t start until 9:05.
Once play began under the spacious VA Memorial Stadium lights, Darby scored at least once in every inning sans the sixth —building a 6-0 advantage that featured Patrick opening with a leadoff drop-in triple to right field in the first, and closed by fellow senior Peyton Rife rocketing a Hunter Thomas pitch over the left-field wall in the fifth for a solo home run.
Meanwhile, Patrick — the future Wright State University Raider — kept the Pirates off the scoreboard, and off the basepaths somewhat as he scattered five hits but struck out seven.
The Pirates did leave eight runners on base, including seven against Patrick — before scoring their three unearned runs in the sixth off Darby reliever Corwin Allen.
With Wheelersburg trailing 6-3, and Thomas on third thanks in part to a two-base error and unsuccessful fielder’s choice which allowed Ethan Ison and Chase Conley to score, the tying run reached the on-deck circle — but Allen induced an Eric Green RBI-groundout which scored Mason Montgomery, and finally struck out Case Dyer to end the inning.
In the seventh, Allen retired the Pirates 1-2-3 to end the game, which included a spectacular diving catch in left field for the second out.
In fact, that was the only time all night one side went down in order, although Allen induced Braden Horr to hit into a 6-3 fifth-frame inning-ending double play.
Horr then had the hard hit to left in the seventh, only to be robbed by Patrick —who traded positions with Allen with one away in the fifth.
Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore made no excuses for the Pirates’ play against a much bigger opponent, instead crediting Patrick and the Panthers.
After his triple and run scored in the first — he walked in the second, singled and stole two bases and scored on an error in the fourth, and finally walked in the sixth before stealing second again.
He also earned the pitching victory, throwing the first four and 1/3 innings while walking three and facing 21 total Pirates.
“We definitely tip our caps to those guys. Very tough opponent. We faced a Division I commit (Patrick) who has signed with Wright State, who normally throws around 86 (mph) or 87, and he was throwing really well. For the most part, I liked our approach at the plate, and we got guys on. But we left eight on base, and that’s something we’ve talked about that we can’t do. Then we had I think three baserunning mistakes,” said Moore. “It’s still early, but at the same time, with our program and the things we expect from ourselves, we have to do better.”
Elias Robson started and was the losing pitcher for Wheelersburg, as Patrick poked his triple to lead off —and it unfortunately dropped in front of Montgomery in right field.
Robson then hit Riley Sims, as Patrick scored on a 6-4 fielder’s choice off the bat of Casey Maruniak —before Robson allowed the first of his five walks.
Four of those came in the second stanza along with another hit batsman, as Robson also threw three wild pitches in the inning —as one of the two Panther points in the second was the result.
Thomas then took over in the third and went the next three, but his first inning started with another walk and an infield hit —as Darby scored on another wild pitch to make it 4-0.
In all, the Pirate pitching issued 10 free passes —eight walks and two hit batsmen.
“Ten free passes is not our style of baseball at all,” said Moore. “Maybe Elias (Robson) was a little nervous and uncomfortable, and for a lot of these guys, this is their first real deal and they are getting thrown out there against a good Division I opponent and playing at night. But the mistakes we made, we definitely have to get better at.”
The Pirates did outhit the Panthers 6-4, as Cooper McKenzie went 3-for-4 with singles in the first, second and fifth.
The other three hits were a Dyer infield single in the first, a Green leadoff single in the third, and Montgomery singling to center in the sixth.
Moore also praised his Pirates for not giving up down 6-0.
“I am proud we fought back. We found ways to get on base, we battled and scored three runs in the sixth, and made it a close enough game that they had to show up in the seventh inning and make plays,” said the coach.
And that the Division I Panthers —and primarily Patrick — did.
“Like I said, we tip our cap to a really good team. Their coach believes they should be able to make another deep tournament run this year. At the same time, it stings a little bit knowing that we had a lot of chances that we just didn’t capitalize on,” said Moore. “But I can guarantee you that we’re going to get better and find ways to improve. It was fantastic to at least be out here playing baseball again.”
That improvement process starts, or continues rather for the Pirates, on Tuesday at Ironton.
The Fighting Tigers won their season opener on Saturday —a 7-5 decision over visiting Valley.
First pitch for all weekday games is set for 5 p.m.
* * *
Wheelersburg 000 030 0 —3 6 2
Hilliard Darby 121 110 X —6 4 2
WHS: Elias Robson 2IP, 3R, 3ER, 1H, 5BB, 2HB, 2K, 13BF; Hunter Thomas 3IP, 3R, 1ER, 3H, 1BB, 0HB, 6K, 14BF; Ethan Ison 1IP, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 2BB, 0HB, 2K,5 BF
HDHS: Andrew Patrick 4 1/3 IP, 0R, 0ER, 5H, 3BB, 0HB, 7K, 21BF; Corwin Allen 2 2/3 IP, 3R, 0ER, 1H, 0BB, 1HB, 1K, 11BF
W —Andrew Patrick; L — Elias Robson; S — Corwin Allen
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved