WHEELERSBURG — It’s hard to gameplan for the long ball, but Wheelersburg baseball coach Derek Moore said that creating an efficient small ball game plan was something his team had been working on in the leadup to Monday’s matchup with Portsmouth.
With early runners on and threatening with a bunt approach, the Pirates took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning of their 5-2 win over the Trojans to secure a spot in the Division III district championship game on Wednesday.
Wheelersburg had its’ first two hitters of the game in Eric Green and Case Dyer reach via infield single on bunt attempts, only for Mason Montgomery to later drive-in Green for their first run via sacrifice fly.
Moore said that the approach became an emphasis after his team wasn’t so efficient in that area in their win over Crooksville in a sectional final on Saturday.
“Small ball, we practiced that last night at The Foxhole coming into today’s game. In the Crooksville game we didn’t really execute that aspect well, and we told them that’s going to be the difference in winning or losing a game,” Moore said. “I think we had four or five bunts, a few that turned into hits when they were meant to be sacrifices. It’s good to see that improve from last game to this after making it a focus.”
Monday’s meeting between the two in the D3 district semis was the first time since May 2005 that the Pirates and Trojans had met in the baseball postseason.
Since that last meeting and entering this season, the two programs have had a different trajectory.
This season marked the first since 2011 that Portsmouth had reached the district stage, while Wheelersburg was doing so for the 17th-straight season.
Trojans coach Aaron Duncan said afterwards his team’s mindset coming into the game was proving they belonged.
Portsmouth junior Daewin Spence tied the game in the fourth inning with a leadoff home run to left field, stepping on home plate with fire and emotion as to rally his Trojan dugout to the fact that they did belong.
“We told them and our message coming in was we wanted to go and compete against one of the state’s elite programs,” Duncan said. “They fought and battled every call this year, and I think the pressure was kind of off because no one expected us to be here. We weathered the storm early and competed.”
Spence also pitched for the Trojans, lasting five and two-third innings and playing with his defense as to get out of some early-game jams.
In the second inning before the tying-shot, Wheelersburg had runners at the corners with no outs.
Two instances where a Pirate runner was caught stealing ended the threat that frame, however, and kept things at a one-run game.
“That was a moment when it told us we’re here to compete, and then Daewin hits that home run, you could feel the momentum,” Duncan said. “But they weathered it because they’re a good team and they’ve been here before.”
Wheelersburg got a leadoff double in the fifth by Case Dyer — sparking a half inning where the Pirates would plate four runs and send 10 batters to the plate.
An RBI by junior Cooper McKenzie scored Dyer just before the game’s second long ball would occur.
Pirates senior Ethan Ison, with two runners on and two outs, went opposite field on a fastball from Spence to make it 5-1 ‘Burg with the Trojans down to their final six outs.
“Last time these seniors get to play here,” Moore said. “Different of course this year getting to play a district game here, but makes it all that more special.”
Portsmouth got one back in the sixth when Christian Keys had a fielder’s choice RBI, but an unconviential 4-6-3-2 double play ended the inning with a tagout at the plate.
It was an opportunity that Portsmouth could have added another run, but Duncan credited Moore and the Pirates’ early game plan of small ball and its’ impact on the outcome.
“My hat’s off to Coach Moore, they do a great job here in Wheelersburg. Their kids were executing their bunts and it wasn’t just getting them (bunts) down,” Duncan said. “Bunts down the line and making it difficult for our kids, and I think their ability to play small ball was a difference in the game.”
Pirates senior Elias Robson earned the victory, pitching six innings and allowing only six hits before junior Hunter Thomas entered in the seventh and picked up the save.
Wheelersburg’s defense committed no errors, something that Moore has been consistent in desiring out of this team as the postseason goes on.
“He was lights out,” Moore said, of Robson. “Controlled the strike zone, pitched to contact and let our defense do the work. Really proud of these seniors and there’s a lot I can say about them.”
Portsmouth (17-13) will graduate six seniors from their sectional championship team, including Keys, Hayden Yerardi, Michael Duncan, Zach Ward, and Chris Duff.
They’ll return their top-three pitchers in Spence, Tyler Duncan, Vinnie Lonardo, and center fielder Drew Roe for the 2022 campaign.
“They mean everything. Five of my six seniors know what they’re going to do post-high school and quite honestly, that’s the reason I got back into coaching high school baseball,” Duncan said. “There’s a lot of lessons to be learned in this game.”
Wheelersburg (21-7) will face Eastern Brown in a Division III district championship on Wednesday, May 26 at the VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
It’ll be a rematch between the schools of-sorts after the Wheelersburg boys basketball team defeated EB at the same stage in early March.
“You’ve got to expect them to be really good. If you make it to the district final, you’re a deserving and good ball club. It’s going to be a dog fight and we’re going to have to play good baseball.”
First pitch is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.
Portsmouth: 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 — 2 6 1
Wheelersburg: 1 0 0 0 4 0 X — 5 10 0
W: Elias Robson (W), L: Daewin Spence (P), S: Hunter Thomas (W)
Drew Roe 1-2
Daewin Spence 1-2, HR, RBI, R
Christian Keys 0-2, RBI
Hayden Yerardi 1-3
Zach Ward 1-3
Michael Duncan 1-3
Eric Green 1-1, BB, R
Case Dyer 2-4, 2B, R
Cooper McKenzie 1-3
Ethan Ison 2-3, HBP, HR, 3RBI, R
Mason Montgomery 0-2, BB, RBI
Braden Horr 1-2, 2BB
Creed Warren 2-2, BB
Hunter Thomas 1-2, HBP
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved