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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Thank You, Coach Michael Estep, For Molding Fine Young Men

 Michael Estep and Jarret Peters

Wheelersburg completed an unbelievable season by winning their second consecutive Ohio Division III Baseball Championship. The local Portsmouth Daily Times reported the win in due fashion:

"Despite an unheard of five errors, the Pirates found a way to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh — capped off when Camron Parsley scored the winning run on a passed ball — for a 5-4 win over Bloom-Carroll Saturday at Huntington Park for their second-straight Division III State Championship. They are the first school since Minster last season in Division IV to repeat as state champions."

Coach Michael Estep felt very fortunate but extremely proud of his never-say-die team. He said,
“Sometimes we don’t have five (errors) in a week. People that sat up there today and watched it that are accustomed to watching us play, they know that’s not our identity. Our identity is not beating ourselves, throwing strikes, not walking people and finding a way to get timely hits.”

The Pirates trailed the Bulldogs 4-3 at the end of game, and it appeared the momentum was going to carry Bloom-Carroll to victory. At that point, Estep and his ball club understood the severity of the situation.

“All of a sudden, we came in there in the bottom of the seventh and you get a bunch of seniors running up to the plate at that point that are going to have their last high school at-bat,” Estep said. “They were just willing to refuse to lose.”

Ben Arnold started a Wheelersburg rally with a one-out infield single, and he advanced to second on a Parsley fielder’s choice in which he beat out the throw to second for the force out.

“My heart was pounding but I was set on getting safe on those bases,” Arnold said.

After Arnold was replaced by Austin May, Miller took the fourth pitch to left for a single that scored May and evened the game. With Parsley at third and Miller at second, Moore was intentionally walked by Corey Stanley, who came in relief to start the inning, to load the bases. Clay Massie struck out to bring up Zach Brown.

“It’s nothing you’ve ever (felt) before,” Brown said. “You’re pounding, you want to be the guy to step into that situation and get that winning run in.”

Up 0-2 in the count, Stanley threw a ball that bounced off the mitt of Bloom-Carroll catcher Jarret Peters. A wild pitch! Parsley delayed and darted for gold.

“I just took off, it was unbelievable,” Parsley said.

He slid in safely for the winning run, and just that quickly, the Pirates snatched the victory and the coveted State Championship.

Camron Parsley scores the winning run.

Sonny Fulks of Press Pros Magazine reported:

"The Wheelersburg team poured out onto the field…the dog pile behind home plate.  Some yelled, some hugged, and some just stood, stunned.  Garrett Carmichael and Camron Parsley, with three of the the Pirates five errors between them, had achieved redemption…their faith in each other and their teammates rewarded.

“'I was thinking to myself…I didn’t want to let my team and the community down,'  said Carmichael, a 5’11″ junior.  'I was still thinking about it on the ground ball in the seventh.  But you just have to go for it, I guess.  I was glad to have that opportunity.'

“'I came in after the third inning and grabbed him (Carmichael),'  said Mike Estep. 'I told him to get his head up because he was too good a ballplayer…that he’d made too many plays for us for the past two years.  I wasn’t gonna’ let him get down on himself.  I knew the ball was going to find him again, and it did on that play he made in the top of the seventh.'

"Lost in the excitement of how it ended was the way Wade Martin brought the game to a point of satisfactory conclusion.  After the disastrous third he limited Bloom Carroll to just three hits over his final 3 1/3 innings.
"In the press box high above Huntington Park long-time Reds scout, and Scioto County native, Gene Bennett watched approvingly.  He’d seen it before…decades of heartbreak and elation, and a lifetime of redemptions that seem to come and go with the game of baseball.

“'That’s why they play all seven,'  said Bennett, the namesake of the baseball field in the Wheelersburg community.  No smile on the Huntington Park field Saturday was broader than his.

"They all will, the better than three thousand fans who came from Scioto County to see it, and Gene Bennett, who’s witnessed World Series triumphs with the Reds and a lifetime of baseball games worth remembering.  They’ll all remember the day Wheelersburg defended its title 'without' its defense.

 (Sonny Fulks, "In 'Defense' Of a Title... Wheelersburg Repeats!", June 8 2013)

Fulks full report:

 Notice Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep consoling 
the Bloom-Carroll catcher after the victory (right backstop).

Let's Focus On the "Game" Within the Game

What a game! What a team! What redemption after some sloppy play! State champions, again!

But, the real capping story of the State Final victory must be told. It happened immediately after the wild pitch. Amid the wild, instantaneous elation among the Wheelersburg team, coach Michael Estep wasn't thinking about the joy of victory just yet. He had other pressing concerns.

Seeing Bulldog catcher Jarret Peters near the backstop in a crestfallen, dejected posture, Estep walked straight to the dejected young man, offered him kind words of consolation, and helped him to his feet. This amazing show of empathy and sportsmanship will forever stand in tribute to a wonderful, kind, caring man.

You see, Estep's connection with boys -- both his team and his opposition -- outweighed all emotions at the moment of the Pirate victory. He has a gift of slowing down time and realizing the crux of the moment. Estep knew what was going through Jarret Peters' head -- the young man had just experienced a crushed dream and the inescapable guilt of contributing to the loss.

The catcher was totally devastated -- wild pitch or passed ball, either ruling, Peters knew that he had just lost control of the final pitch and, in doing so, had placed the final seal on defeat. Just imagine how he felt. Even at the height of one of the most important moments in his coaching career, this is what bothered Michael Estep

A true coach and loving builder of youth, Michael Estep knew his first obligation was to help uplift and repair this young man who needed immediate solace. And, in this case, the young man wore the colors of a Bloom-Carroll Bulldog. He needed a friend in the worst way. Estep understood and went to work.

Michael Estep helped an opponent who was hurting, but even more, he felt an obligation to put his own ego on hold, and, yes, to even put on hold the celebration of the incredible victory of his team, to do the most thoughtful ministry. Needful compassion was his first concern.

This is sports at its best. It exemplifies the epitome of coaching behavior in stressful competition. I hope this incident serves as a lesson in coaching and as a lesson in compassion. You see, there were no losers in the Wheelersburg/Bloom-Carroll State Championship game. The two teams, evenly matched, played a contest with a 5-4 score that ended in intense drama. The young men who played the game are a part of something more than a pastime. They are now brothers in stories of great lifelong memories.

Mr. Estep, I am not canonizing you as Saint Michael, so don't criticize me for being overly flattering in my account of your actions. I just want you to know I truly appreciate your outstanding work with youth. Sometimes the "up-close-and-personal" aspects of human kindness under intense pressure and struggle go unnoticed. To have someone who prioritizes the ethical benefits of competitive sports is not only refreshing but also uplifting as it helps renew my love and respect for baseball.

You see, I, like Jarret Peters, was a member of a State-runnerup team in 1966. As a freshman, I was fortunate enough to play in the tournament and start in the State Final. Needless to say, I was ecstatic but terrified that my play could help spell defeat. The competition at that level is nerve-racking and like no other in your young life. Playing in that tournament was the thrill of a lifetime, but it put the pressure and reality of committing errors that affect entire communities directly upon my young shoulders.

My high school, Lucasville Valley, was defeated 4-0 by Northwestern of Wayne County in that final game. Our tremendous pitcher, Elmer Gregory, who at the time had 24 straight high school pitching wins including a 6-1 State semi-final victory (4-hitter with 11 strikeouts) the day before (On his 18th birthday!) over Carlisle of Warren County, had to leave the mound after trying to pitch two days straight.

So, I too, know the agony of defeat in a State Championship game on a first-hand basis. In the long run, Jarret, I believe your fond memories, like mine, will far outweigh any sorrow of loss. The outstanding season, the team, the efforts, the competition, and the coaches are the valuable "gold" derived from playing high school baseball. With some kind assistance from Wheelersburg coach Michael Estep, I believe you have found that you are one of the winners. I know Mr. Estep believes that, and I know he wants you to believe that, too. Please add me to that list, Jarret.

Wheelersburg giving thanks to the Man Upstairs after the win.

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