PDT Sports Writer
CHILLICOTHE — There is only one freshman on the Wheelersburg baseball roster and his star shown brightest Friday afternoon at V.A. Memorial Stadium.
Not only did Wade Martin go 3-for-4 with a career-high five runs batted in and was a home run away from the cycle, his 4 1/3 innings worth of relief work on the mound was enough as the Pirates defeated St. Clairsville 10-9 in a Division III Regional Championship.
Wheelersburg will play in its third-straight Final Four Thursday morning at Huntington Park against Fredricktown, which defeated Hamilton Badin 6-4.
“What can you say about Wade coming back and being really good for us in the middle innings as he was for us (Sunday), keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to come back and win the game in the districts,” Pirates coach Michael Estep said. “I’m just really proud of the effort he’s given here over the past couple of weekends and hopefully he’s got something left in the tank because it’s going to be a formidable challenge.”
Wheelersburg jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first when Ben Arnold hit an inside-the-park home run. He finished the day a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with four RBIs and was on deck with a chance for his fifth hit when the seventh ended.
“He was really clutch today,” Estep said. “We talked about getting off to a fast start in these regional games when kids that are pretty resilient like Derek (Moore) was today, being able to come back and throw those final couple innings, we didn’t know if that lefty for them would come back.”
The Pirates had a chance to add to the lead but Alex Shears was picked off to end the frame. He faced a similar situation in the fourth inning of Thursday’s semifinal against Piketon.
In that game, Shears was able to advance with a stolen base. It helped spark a two-run inning for Wheelersburg in a 3-0 victory over the Redstreaks.
The Red Devils responded in their half of the first, scoring four times and knocking out Pirate starter Austin Boyer after just 2/3 of an inning. After allowing a hit on the first pitch he threw, Martin retired the next 10 batters he faced.
Moore and Clay Massie were hit by St. Clairsville starter Chris Milhoan with two outs in the second. Martin’s double tied the game at 4-4.
Arnold’s single in the fourth scored Martin and Boyer to make it 6-4. Alex Shears then hit a single but Arnold was gunned down at the plate, the first of two runners who were tagged out at home to end an inning.
Wheelersburg wasn’t done adding to the offensive party. Moore and Brett Hood both walked and gave a chance for Clay Massie, who was hit for Thursday, to step up.
The junior center fielder’s single knocked in Moore. Martin followed with a two-run single and the Pirates were on their way to advancing to their second-straight Final Four with a mercy rule.
The Red Devils had other plans in mind. In the home half of the fifth, Ben Evick — who ended Martin’s streak with a single — and Matt Kinnick each scored to make it 9-6.
Wheelersburg added what was thought of as an insurance run in the seventh when Martin’s triple scored Massie. The last eight runs scored by the Pirates all came with two outs.
“We needed to get every run we could get,” Estep said.
Moore, who came in to pitch to start the sixth, ran into trouble with two outs in the seventh. He allowed four-straight hits to make things interesting.
The first three scored to make it 10-9 and Carlton was at first with Milhoan’s spot as the potential winning run. Milhoan was lifted in favor of Joel Giffin and grounded out to Boyer, who finished the game at third, to end the game.
“I was really proud of (Boyer) today,” Estep said. “I know he didn’t go out and have his A-game on the mound but he came back with some good at-bats, made some sparkling plays on defense and anytime you have to catch a ground ball in a regional final game when you’re only up one run with a runner on base, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to have the butterflies running in your stomach.
“He made a clean exchange and made a strong throw over (to first). Now we’re heading to Columbus.”
Wheelersburg played the entire game without the services of catcher Austin Hall, who was nursing a sore ankle from Thursday’s game. Dylan Miller was 1-for-4 as his replacement.
Although it was the first time in recent memory Estep could remember when Hall had missed a game, he was glad to see Miller step up.
“Dylan did a great job today, I don’t think our pitchers pitched any different,” Estep said. “We still threw breaking balls in the dirt, Dylan blocked them up.”
Estep felt it has been an entire team effort throughout this tournament run. Now the goal for the Pirates before their 10 a.m. first pitch will be to enjoy the moment and get everyone healthy.
“It’s just a tribute to our kids, the preparation and the work that they’ve put in through the course of a year,” Estep said.
Kotopka was 3-for-4 with five RBIs for St. Clairsville. Michael Jacob allowed four earned runs in 4 and 1/3 innings pitched in the loss.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.
Wheelersburg 2 2 0 2 3 0 1 — 10 12 2
St. Clairsville 4 0 0 0 2 0 3 — 9 9 2
Wheelersburg — Martin 3-4 (3B, 2B, 5 RBI, R), Boyer 1-5 (2 R), Shears 1-3 (SAC), Carmichael 1-4, Miller 1-4, Moore 0-2 (BB, HBP, R), Hood 0-3 (BB, R), Massie 1-2 (BB, HBP, RBI, R), Parsley 0-0 (R).
St. Clairsville — Evick 1-3 (BB, R), Vincenzo 0-3 (BB, R), Kinnick 1-4 (2 R), Busby 1-4 (2B, 2 R), Kotopka 3-4 (2B, 5 RBI, 2 R), Carlton 1-3 (HBP, 2 RBI), Milhoan 1-3.
W — Martin (9-1)
L — Jacob (n/a)
S — Moore (4)
Records — Wheelersburg 28-2; St. Clairsville 20-8.