Brock Netter, Staff Writer
Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.
CHILLICOTHE — Wheelersburg and the district stage go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s a place the Pirates are incredibly familiar with and where they’ve tasted a ton of success.
However, Tuesday was not one of the times where their taste buds were fulfilled.
The Pirates (17-9) struggled to gather big hits while dealing with some pitching issues, leading to the end of the season in a 10-2 loss to Meigs in a Division III district semifinal at VA Memorial Stadium.
“Today simply just wasn’t our day and it was easy to see that we weren’t on in any way,” Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore said. “But we faced a great pitcher and a good team that gave him very good run support. They took full advantage of their opportunities.”
The Pirates understood the task at hand with facing Ohio University commit Ethan Stewart on the hill. And although they were up to the challenge, it didn’t turn out as well as desired.
The junior hurler threw a complete game, allowing seven hits and two earned runs while striking out just three batters on the evening.
“We knew coming into this game that we’d have to hold them to two runs or less with [Stewart] pitching,” Moore said. “He controlled a lot of the game. But it’s also easy to do when you have a big lead like he did. He did exactly what you’d expect any Division I pitcher to do and you have to give him a ton of credit. He’s a guy who strikes out anywhere from 12-15 guys per outing, and we only struck out three times. So we hit the ball, but just couldn’t get that clutch hit when we needed it.”
After a scoreless first, Meigs began to mount its offense. It scored on a fielder’s choice first before Connor Imboden ripped an RBI single into center field, making it 2-0.
Then the pitching issues began to surface for the Pirates. With two outs and the bases loaded, they surrendered three straight bases-loaded walks that built the deficit to 5-0.
The Marauders began to sense that an appearance in a district final was theirs, but added some insurance runs in the fifth. It started with back-to-back RBI singles from Theron Eberts and Joey Young. Then Layne Stanley smoked a two-run double to push the lead to 9-0.
However, they weren’t finished yet as Stewart followed with an RBI single to left field for a 10-0 advantage.
Wheelersburg managed to put up a run in the bottom of the fifth and sixth with RBI singles from Jake Darling and Connor Estep, but that was all the offense it could muster on the evening as the Pirates’ season came to a close.
Though the Pirates return nearly the entire roster, they are forced to say goodbye to two important seniors in Hunter Thomas and Cooper McKenzie.
“Hunter came in as a freshman and we knew he had a lot of talent. But if you would have told me he’d be SOC II Pitcher of the Year and first-team all-district, I’m not sure I would have believed you,” Moore said. “He exceeded a lot of expectations, but he also demanded that of himself and we’ll have to find a new ace for next season. Cooper is a four-year varsity starter, player of the year in the conference. And to replace his bat in the lineup and his experience behind the dish is a huge ask. Those guys gave everything to the program.”
While the Pirates’ season comes to an end, Meigs will play either Portsmouth or Fairland in a Division III district final on Thursday at VA Memorial Stadium.
“When we set our goals at the beginning of the year, that district title is always on the list,” Moore said. “We wanted to be back on Thursday and have a chance to play for that district title, but it just wasn’t meant to happen this season. But still yet, winning the SOC II and a sectional with as young of a team as we have is nothing to hang our heads about. My hope is that this sour taste in our mouths fuels us next year, because we know that being in this spot and coming up unsuccessful is not the standard that we have.”