CHILLICOTHE — The Pirates have been the epitome of consistency over the past several years. Fundamental baseball has been a staple of the Michael Estep era.
However, the Pirates were anything but against the Hawks, committing six errors while only collecting five hits. The uncharacteristic performance led to an abrupt exit for Wheelersburg, who fell to the Berlin Hiland Hawks 6-0 Thursday in a Division III Regional Semifinal contest at the VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
“I think when you get to the end and evaluate, and I tell the kids this all the time, it’s about the process,” Estep said. “It’s about the journey, and each and everyday. Baseball deals you a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how you respond to those things. We had a big challenge out there today.”
While the Pirates struggled defensively, Wheelersburg’s (22-7) bats were silenced by the right arm of Eric Mullet who went the distance, striking out nine batters to record the shutout.
The Pirates’ best scoring chance came in the bottom of the first inning. Jordan Howard took the first delivery from Mullet and lined it into left-center field for a double. Chance Holbrook and Kyle Jenkins loaded the bases shortly after with a pair of walks. However, with the bags full and one away, Mullet induced a ground ball to escape the jam unscathed.
“(Mullet) was as advertised, especially in the crucial moments there in the first couple of innings when we had opportunities to score some runs. Not only did he go to a different level, he started to throw that breaking ball a ton for strikes, even in hitters counts … ,” Estep said.Give him a lot of credit there. They got a big double play ball there at the end of the first inning.
“Everything their kids needed to do behind him today, they did. We’ve been in these spots enough. When you have an arm out there that is polished as his is, they find ways to get people out. You tip your hat to him … “
With the game scoreless, Wheelersburg’s miscues began in the third inning. Andy Miller reached base on an infield error, advanced to second on a sacrifice and then swiped third shortly after on a wild pitch. Bryan Yodar collected the first RBI of the day for the Hawks with a seeing-eye single to centerfield. Moments later, Mullet scorched a double down the left-field line to plate two more.
“The miscues that we had, they made us pay on everyone of them,” Estep said. “That’s tournament baseball. When you lineup two teams that pride themselves on doing the little things right, somebody’s style is probably going to win out on these days. Couple with the challenge of their arm and trying to crack him proved to be a little too much today.
“That’s what tournament tested kids do. They’ve played in these games a bunch, even when they were back in Division IV here and trying to get through Newark Catholic, and different teams, you’re still playing good baseball down there. The little things matter and we didn’t find a way to get those things done today.”
The Hawks added insurance runs —one in the fourth, one in the fifth and one in the seventh.
Wheelersburg loses Kyle Davis, Kyle Jenkins, Chance Holbrook and Jordan Howard to graduation.
“They were closing in on 100 wins in four years,” Estep said. “Not many high-school crews can walk away and say that. They had 90 plus victories in their career. They were part of three Final Four teams and obviously the 2013 state championship.
“They won a lot of ball games and some of the kids were thrusted into more of a vital role this year and they had to play a bigger part. To finish off 21-7 and to run through the conference … There’s some good baseball played down here. We don’t take 14-0 in the conference for granted. We don’t take a district championship for granted.”
Reach Chris at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.