Wheeling Park Makes First Title Tilt in Baseball

Photo by Cody Tomer Wheeling Park’s Zach Hickman delivers to the plate during the Class AAA State Semifinals in at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston on Thursday.

CHARLESTON — Strategy becomes such a key part of baseball when pitchers are at their highest level.

Wheeling Park pulled out all of the stops during Thursday’s West Virginia Class AAA state semifinal at Appalachian Park as it shocked defending state champion St. Albans in a 1-0 thriller.

In a scoreless contest in the sixth frame, Jarrod Jones did his damage on the basepaths.

The left fielder took off for third, forcing a throw from St. Albans catcher Darin Flowers.

Jones safely slid feet-first into the bag and an errant throw escaped into left field and he eagerly raced home to give Park what proved to be the winning run.

“St. Albans’ coach called timeout and Coach Mike McLeod basically said with runners on first and second, we are stealing third pitch,” Jones said. “Third pitch we went and I got a good jump and as soon as he said ‘Go, go, go, go!’ … I looked back and saw the ball rolling and I just kept going.”

McLeod confirmed that this is going to be his last season as head coach of Wheeling Park and he wanted to do everything possible to get this club to the state title game.

“We just had to get aggressive,” McLeod said. “We couldn’t get anything going. We only had one hit and I thought, good, bad or ugly we were going to try to swipe a base and get to third with one out.

“You just have to take a chance and it worked out for us.”

The victory advances the Patriots into their first state championship in school history.

“It’s not just for me but it’s about the city, it’s about Wheeling Park High School, Wheeling Park baseball and where they are going,” McLeod said. “Now we are finally over the hump when the clock struck 12.

“This is going to go a long way for me with this being my last year and I’m going to miss these guys and miss the program, but there is a little more calling out there for me.”

The highly anticipated matchup quickly turned into a pitcher’s showcase as Wheeling Park’s Zach Hickman and St. Albans’ Jake Carr were both nearly unhittable.

In fact, Carr held Wheeling Park to one hit but the game of baseball can be funny. All it takes is one.

Ryan Hummel delivered the lone hit for Park.

Hickman threw a spectacular five and one-third innings with five strikeouts and no walks, while keeping the Red Dragons off the scoreboard.

His counterpart, Carr, threw a one-hitter in the hard-knock loss.

Hickman left to a loud applause after his remarkable outing and Ben Taylor entered in the fifth with two on and one out. Taylor calmly induced a pair of groundballs to escape the jam and set up the golden opportunity for the Park offense.

First baseman Brett Donohew also made a game-saving grab as he scooped a ball in the dirt to end the inning and save a run from crossing the plate.

The Patriots will take on Hurricane for the Class AAA state championship on Saturday after the Redskins ousted Martinsburg in a classic battle that came down to the final play.