PDT Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — The biggest test facing a team could be how they react after a long delay.
For Fredericktown and Wheelersburg in Friday’s Division III State Semifinal, the two teams had to endure a nearly two-hour delay before the first pitch was thrown. After going once through the batting order, the Pirates were able to figure out Freddies’ starter Nash Cunningham and advanced to today’s state championship game with a 3-0 win.
Wheelersburg is in the state final for the second time in three seasons. The Pirates will take on Lima Central Catholic, which defeated Orwell Grand Valley 2-0.
“It took us two or three times through the lineup but we were fortunate to pack in all of those hits together,” Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep said. “At the end of the game I think you’re going to talk about the hits you were able to bunch together, I’d sure rather them be three in a row than all scattered.”
Fredericktown threatened first in its half of the first as Matt Smith hit a two-out double and stole third. He was stranded at third when Cunningham became Derek Moore’s third strikeout victim of the frame.
“We’ve been here the last three years and it’s like we’re used to playing here now,” Moore said. “We’ve got all of this experience.”
Brandon Moss started the top of the third with a single. He was erased off the base paths when Dylan Miller, behind the plate for the Austin Hall, put him in a rundown.
“With Austin being out, I had confidence in Dylan being behind the plate the whole time,” Moore said. “He’s done his job all year in the outfield and now catching.”
Just as they did in last Friday’s regional final win over St. Clairsville, the Pirates did their best work with two outs in an inning. In the fourth, Ben Arnold grounded to Moss at third, who ten booted the ball and gave Wheelersburg its first runner of the contest.
“One of our goals coming in was to win the battle of putting balls in play, top-half balls in play,” Estep said. “If we could hit line drives and ground balls in this type of situation in a Final Four with kids who are a little bit more nervous out there, fielding balls.
“It’s going to be in your favor anytime that you can put the ball on the ground. Fortunately that third baseman had a tough play to make there, an in-between hop, and that started the rally.”
After a walk by Alex Shears, Garrett Carmichael’s bloop single scored Arnold. Shears stole third and was brought in with a hit by Miller.
Moore didn’t waste any time advancing the score to 3-0. He took Cunningham’s first offering to right and plated Carmichael.
“He threw me an inside fastball and I turned on it,” Moore said.
Miller tried to score when Cunningham’s 1-2 offering to Clay Massie went to beyond Tyler Ruhl. Instead, Ruhl flipped it to Cunningham and tagged Miller out to end the frame.
It was more than enough for Moore to improve to 13-0 on the season, but it wasn’t easy. The Freddies threatened with back-to-back singles and sent their best hitter, left-handed hitting Matt Smith to the plate.
Fredericktown had been known all season for their speed on the basepaths. Austin Hathaway tried to steal third but Miller cut him down to essentially end the Freddies’ last opportunity of scoring.
“Any time you come in and play a certain system all year, I don’t think that you want to let your kids leave that dugout thinking that we did things differently today,” Estep said. “I think from that standpoint, their coach was going to be aggressive, try to make something happen.”
The junior’s 95-pitch complete game performance included 11 strikeouts against one walk.
“He competed real well,” Estep said. “I thought the umpire was probably a little favorable on the pitching side today.
“With that being said, I knew Derek was kind of licking his chops out there (after the fourth). I thought his breaking ball got better as the game went.”
Once he was given the lead, Moore felt like things slowed down to his liking.
“I knew my team had my back the whole game, we weren’t making any errors,” Moore said. “We knew the hits were going to come after a while.”
During the delay, Estep was impressed with how his team was able to turn it back on while the tarps were in the process of being removed.
“They limited us on infield (practice) but it’s just a part of the adversity you have to face being in a tournament,” Estep said.
Estep stated he will put the fate of today’s game onto the right arm of freshman Wade Martin. In last Friday’s win, Martin threw 4 1/3 innings of relief.
As for the information on the Thunderbirds, the Pirates received all of their scouting notes in the second semifinal.
“We’ve talked all the way from December 1, these seniors, they’ve wanted it as bad as anybody,” Moore said. “We just want to bring something back to the town.”
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.
Fredericktown 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 4 1
Wheelersburg 0 0 0 3 0 0 x — 3 4 1
Fredericktown — Hathaway 1-3, Sellers 1-3, Smith 1-3 (2B, SB), Snyder 0-2 (BB), Moss 1-2.
Wheelersburg — Arnold 0-3 (R), Shears 0-2 (BB, SB, R), Carmichael 2-3 (RBI, R), Moore 1-2 (RBI), Hood 0-1 (BB).
W — Moore (13-0)
L — Cunningham (11-2)
Records — Fredericktown 23-5; Wheelersburg 29-2.