SCIOTO COUNTY — Truth be told, each coach called this one an entire month ago.
That’s because, they had a good premonition that day it was going to happen —and on Thursday it indeed will.
On April 30, the Minford Falcons —in essentially locking up the Southern Ohio Conference Division II baseball championship with the win — completed their first season sweep of the Wheelersburg Pirates since 2001.
Minford, with Marshall University signee and ace pitcher Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis in full command, managed a 3-0 shutout of the host Pirates on a windy Wheelersburg Friday — as Vogelsong-Lewis allowed only two hits and two walks while striking out eight.
The Falcons forged a run across on Pirates’ ace Ethan Ison in the fifth, followed by two more markers in the seventh.
After the contest, both head coaches —Minford’s Anthony Knittel and Wheelersburg’s Derek Moore — were asked about a possible third meeting, which would be in the Division III regional semifinals at Chillicothe’s VA Memorial Stadium.
Both welcomed the challenge, expected deep tournament runs for themselves and their SOC II archrivals, and expressed respect for the opposing program — as Knittel pretty much predicted it was going to happen.
“There isn’t any ‘probably could’. It probably will. As good a program as Wheelersburg is, they are going to battle late in the season. And in my opinion, to get to where you gotta get deep in the postseason, you have to beat the best. I think we’re going to come out and see them again and if that’s who is going to be the best at that time, then we want to play them again and take them down again,” said the coach. “We will definitely see them again, and they are going to learn from this and get better from this, and they are going to be better the next time we play them.”
And play them the Falcons will, as first pitch is set for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday inside spacious VA Memorial Stadium.
Both captured Division III district championships at that venue a week ago on Wednesday —as Minford shut out Meigs 4-0 before Wheelersburg blanked Eastern Brown 8-0.
You just had a feeling this collision course was well-paved ahead of time, and now a regional championship game berth is at stake.
Not to mention, a 21-game winning streak for the Falcons, which were 23-2-1 before Tuesday’s tuneup tilt against Division IV regional semifinalist Valley (see related story).
The Pirates, meanwhile, are on a four-game winning streak of their own after a 1-0 eight-inning loss at Division II Waverly on May 12 — and enter Thursday’s affair at 22-7.
Minford is competing in its fourth regional tournament in five years —with the 2018 team advancing all the way to the state tournament and the 2019 unit under Knittel reaching the regional championship bout.
Wheelersburg is making its first regional appearance since 2017, and the first for the headman Moore —who was part of four regional semifinal games in his Pirate playing days, including back-to-back Division III state championships in 2012 and 2013.
Now, to reach the regional final as a skipper, Moore’s Pirates must find a way to get hits — and even baserunners and let alone runs — off the Minford machine that is Vogelsong-Lewis.
For Moore, he said at that time he would be grateful for a third matchup with the Falcons.
Ask coach, and yes you shall receive.
“We definitely could see Minford again, and I hope we get to see them again. These first two games, a couple hits there or an error here…maybe the third time will be the charm for us,” said the coach. “It will be a great ballgame if it happens again this year.”
Although the regional final is Friday at Lancaster’s Beavers Field, look for Vogelsong-Lewis —who is 2-2 pitching against the Pirates in his career — to get the semifinal start, as will Ison.
Hey, in order to get to the Elite Eight, you gotta get this one — first and foremost.
Against the Falcons on April 30, Ison almost matched Vogelsong-Lewis pitch for pitch, giving up two earned runs and two walks with 11 strikeouts —but the difference was Minford muscled for seven hits.
Minford will aim to execute the same way it did the first two outings, and ride EV-L’s arm all the way.
Some observers object and reason it’s too difficult to defeat the same team three times in one year, so perhaps that prevailing thought is in Wheelersburg’s wheelhouse.
Either way, both coaches called it —and Scioto County baseball fans probably wanted it —so let Minford and Wheelersburg Round 3 in 2021 be for the most.
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