PDT Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — In the biggest pressure situation a high school athlete could ever face, the fate of Wheelersburg’s title chances was on the arm of a freshman.
And in that situation, Wade Martin was equal to the task. The freshman was two outs away from a perfect game and giving the Pirates their second state baseball championship in school history.
“I felt like I was flying out there, just going pretty smooth,” Martin said.
The feat was broken up with one out in the seventh but the Wheelersburg defense stiffened up in the biggest of moments. One run was all Martin needed in support as the Pirates defeated Lima Central Catholic 1-0 in Saturday’s Division III State Championship securing the school’s first crown since 1996.
“I’m just happy for our kids and I’m happy for the community of Wheelersburg,” Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep said. “There’s so many people in the stands today that are currently and have put in so much time into youth league ball, Little League and things, I’m just so happy for our entire Wheelersburg community and it’s just a capper of a great season.
“When you have kids that are willing to do the work, commit and dedicate themselves to being a champion, sometimes it gets to be the outcome.”
Estep had multiple compliments about his starter on how he has grown throughout the tournament.
“He’s a competitor, he doesn’t shy away from situations and today was another example of that,” Estep said. “We put him in crucial situations all year, especially on the mound.
“We’ve obviously moved him to the leadoff spot in the last few games. Although maybe in the hit category he didn’t show up today, he put the ball in play.”
Both Martin and Nick Watkins were pretty much step-for-step in their ability to retire the other team’s hitters in order. The first base runner of the game went to the Pirates when Brett Hood with a one-out single in the third.
In the next inning, Wheelersburg struck gold. Austin Boyer led off the inning with a single and was advanced to second off a Ben Arnold sacrifice bunt.
Boyer moved to third when Watkins threw a wild pitch to Garrett Carmichael. Carmichael then hit a ground ball to second baseman Travis Clark.
Clark threw to catcher Connor Dee but Boyer beat out the throw for the lone tally. The ball skipped past the catcher and allowed Carmichael to reach second.
Martin was cruising through the game at that point, recording seven of his nine strikeouts through five innings of play. In the top of the sixth, Watkins tried to break up the perfect bid but Carmichael’s diving catch prevented any damage.
“What can you say about Garrett in the field today, he was tremendous making a few plays for us,” Estep said. “Here he is, just a sophomore out there competing in that matter.”
After getting Colin Stolly to ground out to him to start the seventh, Martin was on his way to history with Clark batting. Before facing Clark, Martin had went to a three-ball count to three batters.
The second baseman took the 1-2 pitch out to right field. Derek Arthur dove for the ball but it scooted past him and Clark was in with a triple and then was replaced by pinch runner Ryan Cousey.
Martin said nervousness started to take its toll on him as the game went on. Estep called a meeting to the mound after the hit.
“Wade was calm, he really was,” Estep said. “Our upperclassmen had gone in there even before I went out and make sure.
“Derek (Moore)’s coming back to first base and telling me he’s fine, let him be. I wanted to make sure what the situation was, we were going to play our check defense there where we’re not quite playing infield in because it wasn’t the winning run at that point, it was just the tying run. I just told them no matter what, we needed to make sure we got an out.”
Two pitches later, Dee grounded to Carmichael, who fired onto Dylan Miller and was able to tag Cousey out and keep the shutout in tact.
“The throw pulled Dylan across the plate and they had a heck of a job pulling across and tagging the runner out at the plate,” Martin said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
After a walk to Sam Huffman, Billy Taflinger grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game. In three of the final four games of the tournament, the Pirate pitching staff was able to shut out their opponents.
“I knew I had it going the whole game but I just really don’t care that it’s not a perfect game or a no-hitter, I just care that we won the game,” Martin said. “The whole Pirate family is not me, it’s everyone.”
Assistant coach Andy Heimbach is the only person to be a part of both championships. He played for Jack Branon’s 1996 squad.
Now there will be a sign with his name on it along with a team filled with six seniors. Only Boyer, Hood, Alex Shears, Austin Hall, Jon Clevenger and Zach Flanagan can state they won 30 games and a state title in 2012.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 242, or email@example.com.
Lima Central Catholic 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 1 1
Wheelersburg 0 0 0 1 0 0 x — 1 2 0
Lima CC — Clark 1-3 (3B), Huffman 0-2 (BB).
Wheelersburg — Boyer 1-3 (R), Arnold 0-2 (SAC), Carmichael 0-2 (RBI), Hood 1-2.
W — Martin (7-1)
L — Watkins (6-3)
Records — Lima CC — 22-9; Wheelersburg 30-2.