WHEELERSBURG — It was cold, it was raining off and on despite SOME semblance of breakthrough sunshine, and it was a downright dreadful day weather-wise to be playing baseball on Friday.
None of that mattered, though, to the host Wheelersburg Pirates —which dodged the rain, the wind, the chilly temperatures and ultimately an early Oak Hill Oaks’ unearned run.
That’s because the Pirates plated the game’s final 11 runs, and two Pirate pitchers tossed for seven strikeouts and allowed only three Oaks’ hits, as Wheelersburg remained undefeated in Southern Ohio Conference Division II competition —following an 11-1 six-inning mercy-rule win over the young Oaks.
That’s correct, as Oak Hill had an unearned counter in its opening at-bat —on a Rylan Sams single, a Nate Clutters walk, and an error off the bat of Aidan Hall as Sams scored.
But beyond that, Friday’s no-good weather day did serve the now 4-3 Pirates —which remained undefeated in the SOC II at 4-0 and tied atop the division with Valley (5-0 SOC II) — quite well.
They answered immediately Oak Hill’s (4-3, 3-2 SOC II) single marker, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first —followed by four more in the fourth, three more in the fifth, and finally one in the sixth for the 10-run mercy rule.
Of the Pirates’ nine hits off three Oak Hill hurlers, Cole Estep amassed a 4-for-5 day with a two-run fifth-inning double and a fourth-inning sacrifice fly —but his two-out single to right field off Oak Hill’s Gavin Howell ended it, easily scoring Landon Hutchinson.
Hutchinson himself singled to lead off the inning, and then moved up a base on back-to-back walks to Creed Warren and Cole Estep.
The Pirates took true advantage of four Oak Hill errors, combined with 10 total walks — with one being intentional to Jake Darling.
Hutchinson in the second inning, Hunter Thomas in the fourth and Isaac Bockway in the opening were also all hit by pitches —paving the way for the Pirates to attack at the plate, provided patience among the at-bats.
With the weather what it was, there was no reason to roll the dice —just take what the Oaks offered, according to Wheelersburg head coach Derek Moore.,
“It was good to see our guys come out and swing the bats and work counts at the plate,” said the coach. “Let’s say a pitcher is off that day, you have to find ways to make that hurt. We found ways to do that tonight. We got to (Nate) Clutters later in the game, second or third time through the lineup. We took advantage of some opportunities that they gave us, and we never looked back.”
That the Pirates did —against Oak Hill ace Nate Clutters, who pitched a complete-game one-run three-hit gem in the Oaks’ 10-1 triumph over West last Monday.
Against Wheelersburg, Clutters walked Warren to lead off the first Pirate at-bat —followed by an Connor Estep sacrifice bunt, a Cooper McKenzie RBI-single which crossed Warren, Bockway being hit by a pitch, and Cole Estep opening his good day with a single.
The initial of the Oaks’ errors off the bat of Darling, with two outs, allowed McKenzie to come home —along with Bockway.
Clutters pitched into the fourth before being relieved by Mason Davis, but the Pirates’ plate patience paid off again —as they sent 10 batters to the plate, with Clutters and Davis facing five Pirates apiece.
They combined for four unearned runs on one hit —a disputed Darling two-run ground-rule double which Wheelersburg believed was a home run —and two more Oaks’ errors.
Both errors occurred when Clutters was still in, as he walked a pair before Davis entered —who walked Bockway, gave up the sac fly to Estep and double to Darling, and finally hit Thomas with a pitch.
That made it 7-1, which Wheelersburg upped to 10-1 with three more markers and two more hits in the fifth.
Davis did walk Warren and Connor Estep before Howell did so in the sixth, as McKenzie crushed a double to the gap in left to bring in Warren.
With two outs, Cole Estep unloaded for a two-run double to right —scoring Connor Estep and McKenzie for the now nine-run commanding lead (10-1).
Behind Cole Estep, the senior catcher McKenzie went 2-for-3 with three RBI —as Darling’s double, Bockway’s infield single in the third and Hutchinson’s single to left in the sixth accounted for all nine Orange and Black basehits.
McKenzie and Thomas are the only Pirate seniors, so it is important —Moore said —that the younger players gain valuable experience at the dish.
“As you can tell with a lot of these young guys, as the season goes on, the maturity at the plate is definitely starting to help us out,” he said. “It was good to see the performance out of Cole (Estep), and a couple of other guys have good at-bats and hit the ball hard. We didn’t have lazy outs, we made them have to make plays. We don’t like to give them (runs) any, but if we do, then we have to find a way to scratch a couple runs across of our own.”
It was more than just a couple.
Those 11 runs on nine hits and 10 walks with three hit batsmen and four Oaks’ errors were more than enough support for the ace Thomas —who retired the Oaks 1-2-3 in the second, left the bases loaded in the third, and finally left Oaks on the corners in the fourth.
He stranded Clutters and Hall at second and third in the first, then bounced back for the final two outs in the third — after Howell and Sams singled to lead off, and Hall was hit by a pitch.
After the Pirates’ only other error, and Thomas’ second walk, he recovered quickly —retiring the final three hitters he saw.
Thomas struck out a quarter (five) of the 20 total batters he faced — before Darling worked the final two innings and fanned two, while facing the minimum six Oaks.
He walked Clutters to lead off the fifth, but came right back to induce Hall to hit into a 4-3 double play.
“Hunter wasn’t his sharpest on the mound tonight, but we got four good innings out of him. Then Jake (Darling) came in and closed the door, faced the minimum for those two innings and looked really good,” said Moore.
Indeed, the Pirates —amid the rain, cold, wind and just downright dreary weather from Friday — put together a key SOC II triumph.
After all, Wheelersburg —like all the other conference clubs —can’t be taking league losses with the absolutely rugged nature of this division this season.
Case in point, South Webster upset the apple cart quite a bit — with its 3-2 Thursday night win over defending champion Minford.
“It’s always good to get a conference win, especially on your home field. Glad Mother Nature held off enough for us tonight to be able to play at home and keep some rhythm going and play some good baseball,” said Moore. “It’s important, especially on your home field, to find a way to take care of business. I felt that’s what we did.”
* * *
Oak Hill 100 000 — 1 3 4
Wheelersburg 300 431 — 11 9 2
OHHS: Nate Clutters 3 1/3 IP, 7R, 1ER, 4H, 2HB, 3BB, 0K, 21BF; Mason Davis 1IP, 2R, 2ER, 1H, 1HB, 3BB, 0K, 8 BF; Gavin Howell 1 2/3 IP, 2R, 2ER, 4H, 0HB, 3BB, 1 IBB, 1K, 12BF
WHS: Hunter Thomas 4IP, 1R, 0ER, 3H, 1HB, 2BB, 5K, 20BF; Jake Darling 2IP, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 0HB, 1BB, 2K, 6BF
W —Hunter Thomas; L — Nate Clutters
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved