A coming-of-age victory for Wheeling
While there is no substitution for experience, every once in awhile a team needs a little youthful exuberance to carry them through.
That came for the Wheeling's baseball team on Tuesday as the host Wildcats edged Lake Forest Academy 5-4.
Heading into this season, Wheeling was looking at its experience to carry its senior-laden squad. But when freshman Drew Roberts stepped into the batters box with 2 outs and no one on in the bottom of the 6th in a 4-4 tie, that all changed.
Roberts battled for 10 pitches, fouling off 3 tosses with a full count. He then drilled a line drive through the left side for a single. Senior Marty Falkiner followed up with a double to right-center, and Roberts raced around the bases with the eventual winning run.
"I was just trying to stay alive there," Roberts said. "I was just fouling it off and waiting for my pitch. He kept throwing me fastballs and I knew I could get one to hit."
While Roberts was battling, Falkiner was watching the Caxy pitcher, who had just entered the game to start the sixth, from the on deck circle.
"It was good to see Drew battle up there," said Falkiner, who had 2 hits. "I got see a lot of pitches from the on deck circle and I was able to get my timing down."
Wheeling coach Jason Wieder was pleased that his young player could step up so ably.
"That was a huge at-bat for Roberts," Wieder said. "We've been preaching approach, and we talked before the season about competing. And those were two at bats where those guys competed against the other team. You see a freshman do it and then Marty (Faulkiner) puts a good swing on it."
Wheeling (4-1) need that in order to out away upstart LFA. The Wildcats committed 4 errors that led to 3 unearned runs and struggled at other moments. But Wheeling was able to pull things together.
"That is the difference in this team," Wieder said. "We kicked the ball around a bit. But we are able to come out of these innings. Before it would snowball on us. Now we are able to stay together and fight through those bad times."
Wheeling pushed across runs in each of the first two innings to lead 2-0.
Brendan Spillane walked, stole second, went to third on an infield hit and scored on a wild pitch in the first. Roberts walked in the second and later scored on Nathan Cooney's single.
Lake Forest Academy (0-2), which started 7 sophomores, used some of their youthful exuberance in the third. The Caxys scored all of their runs thanks to hits by Andrew Ryder, Joe Alexander and Tyler Grumhaus along with an error to take a 3-2 lead.
Wheeling came back in its half of the inning to regain the lead. After Spillane and Matt Vollemer had 1 of his 2 hits, the Wildcats took advantage of a LFA error to regain to lead 4-3.
The Caxys tied it in the fifth inning thanks to a pair of errors by the Wildcats. But Cooney, who went all 7 innings, striking out five, allowed just 1 hit in the final 2 innings.
"Our kids really stepped up," LFA coach Dave Wick said. "They hung in there against a bigger school and played well."
Spillane, who is headed to Illinois after this season, has been impressed with Roberts' play.
"He is a great kid," Spillane said. "He works really hard in practice. We have faith in him."
But even a freshman who comes up with a huge hit still has to pay his dues. While the rest of the team gathered up their belongings to leave the field, Roberts was down the left-field line raking a bullpen.
"The guys treat me real well here," Roberts said. "But you got to do this, if you are a freshman."