Wayne, Frankfort Class AA semifinal offers bevy of intrigue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On paper, Friday’s Class AA baseball state tournament matchup between No. 2 Wayne and No. 3 Frankfort appears to be one of the more intriguing semifinal games.

Both programs feature veteran rosters with aspirations, like James Monroe in the other semifinal, of spoiling Bridgeport’s current dominating run of four straight state championships.

Wayne (25-5) is in the state tournament for a third straight year, looking for a breakthrough win over that span into the title game after getting upset in the same No. 2 versus No. 3 matchup a year ago against Weir.

“There’s so much outside of the game of baseball that impacts state tournament games – everything is different from the way you take infield, to the size of the crowd, the media attention. It’s a different thing, but hopefully we’ve gotten over that aspect of it,” said Wayne coach Todd Ross, in his final year at the helm. “Once the game starts, you have to be aggressive.

“You can’t sit back, you have to take the game to the other team,” he continued. “That’s where we have kind of fallen apart the last couple of years, we haven’t been that aggressive.”

The Pioneers have that veteran experience in seven seniors, but are also young in spots, having to rely on a strong group of freshmen and sophomores meshing into the mix as key contributors as well.

“We lost our first game of the year to St. Joseph Central, 11-5. We’re not supposed to be here, based on what we lost from last year,” Ross said. “It’s been amazing to watch those kids grow, step up and fill those positions. We have the seven seniors who know a little baseball, but without those freshmen and sophomores stepping in, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Wayne is in its third straight state tournament, looking to take another step or two this year after semifinal exits the last two seasons.

One of those freshman grabbing statewide attention is 6-foot-5, 230 pound Wyatt Milum who leads the Pioneers on the mound with a 10-1 record and 1.79 ERA.

Milum, who received a scholarship offer from Marshall before the season even began, has recorded an incredible 117 strikeouts in 58 and two-thirds innings pitched this year.

“He’s been a guy on everyone’s radar since the beginning. When he was 10 years old, he hit four home runs in an all-star game,” Ross said. “He’s grown seven inches in the last two years. He’s a good athlete.”

At the plate, Milum is hitting .388 with 35 RBIs and 23 runs scored.

Senior shortstop Cayden Ross leads the Pioneers overall offensively, hitting .494 with 33 RBIs and 32 runs scored.

Zach Perry (.440, 30 RBIs, 29 runs scored), Isaiah Thompson (.404, 19 RBIs, 33 runs scored), senior Jeremiah Milum (.369, 22 RBIs, 21 runs scored) and Josh Perry (.343, 20 RBIs) are also all hitting above .300 on the year.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Ross said. “They way this team has come together and with these seniors, it’s been an amazing year.”

Frankfort (23-6), in its first baseball state tournament since 2001, has been building for this run over the last couple of years. The Falcons had strong starts in both of the last two seasons, but ultimately faded down the stretch.

The initial goal was clear heading into 2018.

“This year’s team was Charleston or bust,” said Frankfort coach Matt Miller. “They’ve been my starting core for three years. My six seniors and one of my juniors have been part of my lineup for the last three years. Their expectations were the whole thing or nothing.

“Last year we just completely and utterly underachieved,” he continued. “They know what that’s like and that’s not what they wanted to do this year. Our biggest strength is our togetherness. These kids are like family – they’ve been playing together since they were little.”

The Falcons showed resiliency in regional play after dropping the first game to Weir 4-2. Frankfort bounced back with a 9-1 win in game two and 11-1 victory in game three to win the region.

“We had 12 days off because of the weather and issues we had in sectional play not getting to play with flooding,” Miller said. “But we came back and hit the baseball in those next two days and showed what we were capable of.

“We just had to relax and play how we play,” he continued. “We’ve been averaging 10 hits and 10 runs per game, so I wasn’t too worried about things because we have a very experienced team – they didn’t get down on themselves.”

The Falcons have 11 players who have played in at least 23 games this season — all of them are hitting over .300 on the season.

Frankfort standout Blake Wasson is a Kent State baseball recruit.

Zack Whitacre has led the way overall, posting a .439 average with 34 RBIs and 45 runs scored — he has struck out just twice in 107 at-bats.

Foster Conis (.427, 17 RBIs, 37 runs scored), Blake Wasson (.413, 36 RBIs, 32 runs scored), Brady Whitacre (.404), Caleb Hare (.398, 27 RBIs, 32 runs scored) and Nick Corwell (.362, 25 RBIs) are among other leaders at the plate.

Brendan Whiteman (.333), Chandler Rhodes (.333), Devin Lynch (.328), Wyatt Yates (.319) and Blake Rhodes (.303) are the other regular contributors all hitting above .300.

Wasson (7-2, 2.80 ERA), who will play D-I baseball at Kent State, has headlined the pitching rotation, striking out 62 batters in 55 innings thrown.

Conis (7-1, 1.81 ERA), who will pitch at Potomac State, and Zack Whitacre (7-1, 1.21 ERA) have logged a majority of the other innings.

“Batting average against all three of those guys is really tough,” Miller said. “We don’t give up a ton of hits with those three guys on the mound. Sometimes what hurts us is giving free bases. You can’t beat good teams if you give them free bases.”

Something that will be critical in Friday’s showdown with Wayne.

“I know they have strong pitching, they’re fundamentally sound and they’re very well coached,” Miller said of the Pioneers. “They play in an extremely tough section and region – for them to come out of that, they’re the real deal. Their program has been solid for a long time.

“I trust our guys,” he continued. “They’ll be comfortable and I’m just going to tell them to be themselves. The bases are the same distance at Frankfort High School as they are at Appalachian Power Park.”

Friday, June 1: Session 1 (Class AA semifinals)

10 a.m. — No. 1 Bridgeport (28-10) vs. No. 4 James Monroe (17-8)

50 minutes after game one — No. 2 Wayne (25-5) vs. No. 3 Frankfort (23-6)

Saturday, June 2 (Championship Saturday)

10 a.m. — Class AAA state championship

45 minutes after awards presentation — Class AA state championship

45 minutes after awards presentation — Class A state championship

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