PDT Sports Writer
WHEELERSBURG — With two days before the Division III State Semifinals, the Wheelersburg Pirate baseball team held its final practice Wednesday before embarking later today to Columbus.
It was the final time the six seniors on the Wheelersburg roster — Alex Shears, Austin Boyer, Austin Hall, Brett Hood, John Clevenger and Zach Flanagan — would step on the home diamond together as the Pirates continue to prepare for Friday’s semifinal against Fredericktown.
“As we were going out to throw this morning, Austin Boyer told me he thought he was going to bring an air mattress and come over here to sleep tonight,” Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep said. “There is a lot of pride for these guys in coming up here to play.”
It would be an interesting decision on whether the head groundskeeper of the diamond would allow Boyer to enjoy one last moment on the field with an overnight stay. The person in charge of keeping the field maintained is Boyer’s father, Bill.
“He’s been tremendous for us,” Estep said about the elder Boyer. “He sets the tone of what taking a lot of pride in this field is like and when kids roll up here every day and they see him cutting the grass on a daily basis, our kids don’t hardly ever have to come out and take ground balls without the grass being cut.
“They have a great appreciation and a great love for him and what he’s done for the past eight years. I hope that he never goes away, that’s for sure.”
With the final weekend of the season fast approaching, yesterday was the final strenuous workout for the Pirates before today’s walk through at Dublin Coffman High School. Among the things focused on during a mixed intersquad scrimmage involving both the varsity and junior varsity squads were handling game situations both on the basepaths and out in the field.
“I thought we executed things pretty well,” Estep said. “To able to be competitive there a little bit at the end and still try to keep it fun at the last practice of the season … I thought the guys approached it pretty well.”
All of Wheelersburg’s practices before today had been at 10 a.m. and at home. The team declined to move practice to another facility with dimensions similar to what they will see Friday at Huntington Park.
“I think most of the stuff we do can be accomplished right here on this field, having everything here and not getting them out on the road as much,” Estep said. “We did spend some time at Portsmouth and Valley heading into the districts and the regionals to get used to some ground balls and how balls were going to bounce on the turf but I think we felt like this week we were going to stay on routine.”
Practice in Dublin
The Pirates will have a 90-minute workout later this afternoon at Coffman High School, a place that Estep feels is well-maintained and is the same size as Huntington Park to work on relay situations not accessable at home. The only thing his team may encounter as a deviation from the schedule will be the traffic from the first round of The Memorial Tournament at nearby Muirfield Villiage Golf Club.
The Youth Movement
Estep has the reserve squad take part in the practices this late in the season to provide bodies for certain drills. Although this makes for a crowded diamond, it gives them an opportunity to get ready for what to expect when it’s time for them to move up.
“These varsity kids are going to hit the ball much quicker, much harder through the infield,” Estep said, “Knowing how to play back, to still come and attack a hop when a ball is hit on a routine play. Through the course of a season when we’re able to put our younger kids in those situations when we bring up some of those kids up from our JV team there at the end, they’re pretty well-versed in making plays in those slots and it’s not really as new to them at that time.”
Clevenger and Hall did not participate in any of Wednesday’s practice because of injuries except as third base coaches for their respective teams. Hall said he is still improving from his ankle injury suffered in last week’s regional tournament and is wanting to make sure he is ready for Friday’s first pitch.
“Saturday for graduation, the morning I woke up, I could hardly walk on it,” Hall said. “Ever since then, I did a little bit of jogging, light, but I think that I’ll be able to go.”
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.