FREDERICKTOWN — Baseball fever has gripped Fredericktown, as the Freddies prepare to sail into uncharted waters.
Friday, the high school baseball team will make its first ever appearance at the Division III state tournament, when Fredericktown faces Wheelersburg at Huntington Park in Columbus at 10 a.m.
“They’re very excited,” Fredericktown head coach Tom Craze said of his players. “They still believe that they can get better. Their approach in practice has been very businesslike. I think I’m more nervous than they are. They’re excited, but they’re still hungry.”
The Freddies haven’t exactly blown anyone out of the water on their journey to the Final Four. Every game in the tournament has been in doubt until the final inning, with no victory coming by more than two runs.
Fredericktown’s opponent, the Wheelersburg Pirates, can’t say the same thing.
Wheelersburg (28-2), which will make its fourth appearance at state in five years, blew through its first two opponents by a combined score of 19-0. From there, the Pirates came back to defeat Lynchburg-Clay (6-5) and survived its game against Piketon (3-0) before earning a thrilling 10-9 victory over St. Clairsville in the regional finals.
In the regular season, Wheelersburg’s only two losses came to Kentucky schools.
“I worry about a game where you get a lead, and then you lose focus a little bit,” said Craze. “We’ve had a great mental approach, and the games are close and we haven’t lost focus. Hopefully that continues.”
The matchup on Friday should be entertaining for old-school baseball fans who like dominating pitching performances. Nash Cunningham, who has had a hand in several victories this postseason on both offense and defense, will face Wheelersburg’s ace, Derek Moore, whose fastball has been clocked in the mid-80s. In his last performance, Moore needed just 73 pitches in a 3-0 complete game victory over Piketon.
Cunningham saw a specialist over the past week to get some of the soreness out of his arm. Physically and mentally, for his part, he is ready for the challenge.
“He called me on Sunday and asked for the baseball,” said Craze. “He’s been in big game situations throughout the year, and he’s excelled.”
Offensively, Wheelersburg is led by catcher Austin Hall (.437 BA, 9 2B, 22 RBI) and Austin Boyer (.361 BA, 18 RBI). Hall, who is committed to play college ball at Dayton, injured his ankle in the regional semifinal against Piketon and sat out Saturday’s regional final against St. Clairesville. He is expected to be a game-time decision.
The surprise for the Pirates this year has come in the form of freshman Wade Martin. A two-way threat, Martin went 3-for-4 from the plate with 5 RBIs against St. Clairsville, while earning the win on the mound by pitching 4 1/3 innings of relief.