PDT Sports Writer
CHILLICOTHE — If there were an example that Wade Martin does not have a sophomore slump, Friday’s Division III Regional Championship would prove he isn’t a one-year wonder.
Despite a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and a 72-minute rain delay in the sixth, Martin finished with 13 strikeouts and helped Wheelersburg to a fourth-straight regional championship — a first in school history — with a 4-0 win over West Lafatette Ridgewood at VA Memorial Stadium. The Pirates will take on Youngstown Ursuline, which defeated Orrville 4-1 earlier Friday, in Thursday’s state semifinal. First pitch is slated for 10 a.m.
“He was fortunate today obviously to get some swings and misses,” Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep said. “But I think he always knows that as long as he’s throwing strikes, they’re going to put the ball in play sometimes and our defense is going to take care of them.”
The Generals put some early pressure on the Pirate defense from the start as Brice Hammond reached on an error to start the contest. After a Seth Bergeron sacrifice bunt, C.J. Grove and Zak Keesee loaded the bases with a walk and a single.
But Martin, who was two outs away from throwing a perfect game in last year’s state championship game, showed the grit and resolve that he possessed a year ago. He was able to get Ryan Lowe to fly out to Sam Robinson, who gunned down a streaking Hammond at home to end the inning.
“During the season, you don’t get too many opportunities to practice that kind of play,” Estep said. “But in practice, just this week, we worked double relays and just regular relays.
“…You don’t want to have yourself in that situation but if it comes up, you’re ready to play catch.”
Ridgewood threatened again in the second when Dillon McPherson started the inning with a single and was moved on by a Gage Young sacrifice bunt. Martin was able to strike out Alex Creston and, on an 0-1 pitch to Austin Lowery, get McPherson into a rundown and picked him off at third to end the frame.
“That’s not something that can come from the dugout in-between pitches, that’s just a player recognizing the situation,” Estep said. “We mention those things all the time to our guys that we can’t coach up every play during the course of a game, we’re going to need (them) to make some plays on the run.”
A two-out double in the fourth by Lowe was the last time a General could get into scoring position. Estep said the best thing to do when a pitcher is in a groove is to say nothing. At that point, he leaves the talks up to assistants Andy Heimbach and Tim Sutton.
“I’m definitely not going to overcoach in that situation,” Estep said.
Wheelersburg drew first blood in its half of the second when Clay Massie, who reached on a walk issued by Grove, scored on a passed ball. Martin helped himself out in the fouth with a two-out double off Keesee to score Austin May, who pinch ran for Zach Brown.
Martin cruised after the Young sacrifice as he went on to strick out six-straight batters he faced and eight of nine at one point.
The final nails in the coffin came in the sixth. Martin recorded his 10th punchout when he fanned Bergeron for a second time and the umpires halted the game because of lightning. Despite the long delay, Martin allowed a single to Grove then forced Keesee to fly out to Robinson.
In the bottom half of the inning, Brown started with a walk and was replaced by Derek Arthur. Robinson followed with a single but Garrett Carmichael and Martin were retired to bring up Ben Arnold.
Arnold, who was 2-for-2 with a triple in Thursday’s 4-2 semifinal win over West, hit a screamer up the box to clear the bases and account for the contest’s final runs.
Estep felt Ridgewood was a mirror image of his team. He gave one message to his troops before hopping off the bus.
“We have to be better at our brand of baseball than they are at theirs,” Estep said.
The win marks not only the first senior class in school history to play in the state tournament in all four years, it’s the fifth trip in six years to Huntington Park for the program.
“I’m just really proud of our six seniors, it’s four years in a row for those guys and I don’t think too many kids can graduate high school and have that kind of record,” Estep said. “I’m super thrilled for them and I know they’re proud of the way that our team went out and competed for those six seniors today.”
Estep said he will try to keep his team on the same pattern as last year with the only difference coming in the days for the semifinal contests. As for his team’s next opponent, Estep said he knows very little about the Fighting Irish.
“They have a great athletic tradition up there,” Estep said. “I know all about it from football and the different sports. I’m sure they’re going to bring that tradition down to Columbus.”
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.
West Lafayette Ridgewood 000 000 0 — 0 4 0
Wheelersburg 010 102 x — 4 7 1
Ridgewood — Bergeron 0-2 (SAC), Grove 1-2 (BB), Keesee 1-3, Lowe 1-3 (2B), McPherson 1-3, Young 0-1 (SAC).
Wheelersburg — Carmichael 2-3 (BB), Martin 1-2 (2B, BB, SAC, RBI), Arnold 1-2 (2 BB, 2 RBI), Massie 0-2 (BB, R), Brown 2-2 (BB), Robinson 1-3 (R), May 0-0 (R), Arthur 0-0 (R).
W —Martin (9-0) CG, 0 R, 4 H, 13 K, 1 BB
L —Grove (5-3) 2 IP, 1 R (1 ER), 2 H, 2 K, 4 BB
Records — Ridgewood 20-10; Wheelersburg 27-4.