PDT Sports Writer
Wheelersburg is hoping the third time’s the charm.
The Pirates are in Columbus for the Division III State Baseball Championships for the third-straight year and are looking to replicate the school’s first state crown that came in 1996. Wheelersburg will take on Fredericktown in Friday morning’s semifinal at Huntington Park.
Pirates coach Michael Estep knows the feat is special.
“It just says a lot about the consistency that our kids have been able to establish with their work routine, not only during the season here but outside the season,” Estep said. “Our kids have just worked extremely hard and I’m just really thrilled they’re able to cap off their spring with giving themselves an opportunity to be in the Final Four.”
Wheelersburg advanced by winning last Friday’s regional championship over St. Clairsville 10-9. The Freddies defeated Hamilton Badin 6-4 later that afternoon.
Estep is aware Fredericktown’s athletic programs has a lot of athleticism, pride and tradition. The Freddies are led by junior center fielder and closer Matt Smith, who is a Division I baseball prospect.
“He seems to be a pretty consistent player for them, not only just for this particular season but he has been throughout the first two years of his high school career as well,” Estep said.
This Wheelersburg squad is riding high after big days in the Elite Eight contest from freshman Wade Martin and junior Ben Arnold. Martin was 3-for-4, was a home run shy of the cycle and picked up the win in relief while Arnold was a perfect 4-for-4 with an inside-the-park home run.
One of the concerns Estep’s group has entering the weekend is the health of senior catcher Austin Hall. The University of Dayton signee suffered an ankle injury in Thursday’s 3-0 semifinal win over Piketon.
“He’s making progress, we’ll say that each day we see him improving,” Estep said. “At this point I think it’s really going to be a last-second-type decision.”
One positive sign from Tuesday’s practice was was Hall’s ability to get down in his stance. If he can’t go, Dylan Miller will be the backstop for junior pitcher Derek Moore.
Playing back-to-back days is something the Pirates are used to. Not only did they have to play both regional games last week in consecutive days, last season’s Division III tournament bracket was set for a Friday-Saturday schedule, the same as it is this year.
Last season, Wheelersburg lost 9-6 to Cincinnati Madeira. Two years ago, the Pirates fell to Bellville Clear Fork 14-3 in the state championship game.
Estep feels his team will be ready for the magnitude of the weekend with what has happened the past two seasons.
“I think the big thing our guys understand is the routine,” Estep said. “We’ve had really good days of practice these first two days this week, I really like their focus and effort.”
Wheelersburg enters Friday’s contest with a 28-2 record. Both losses have come to Kentucky schools (2-0 to Greenup County in a rain-shortened five innings and 2-0 to Ashland Boyd County despite Brett Hood and Martin combining for a no-hitter).
First pitch is slated for 10 a.m. Friday from Huntington Park. The second semifinal will place Orwell Grandwell Valley against Lima Central Catholic and should start at 1 p.m.
Game time for Saturday’s championship game is approximately 4 p.m.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext.242, or email@example.com.