WELLSTON - The Wellston Golden Rockets baseball season came to an unexpected end on Wednesday afternoon.
The No. 6-seeded Rockets were eliminated by the 11th-seeded Chesapeake Panthers, 7-3 in a Division III sectional semifinal game at Veteran's Field in Wellston.
With the loss, Wellston finishes the 2016 season with a 13-9 mark, which included a tie for third-place in the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division.
Chesapeake (11-12) now moves on to the sectional finals against South Point at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
A three-run first inning by Chesapeake, followed by two runs in the second and seventh innings did the Rockets in.
"We were down 3-0 in the first inning and then, we gave up two more runs in the second inning," said Wellston head coach Morgan Stevens. "We really didn't play well today, defensively. That is the one thing, we kind of hung our hats on in previous games was our defense.
"We didn't make the routine plays like we usually do and that was definitely, in my opinion, the biggest difference in the game."
Wellston starter Michael Graham, who suffered the loss, had to overcome a rough start after allowing the Panthers five runs in the first two innings. The Panthers got to Graham for six hits in his four innings of work, while the right-handed junior struck out three. Timothy Stanley came on in relief to pitch the final three innings for the Rockets and surrendered two runs on five hits.
On the other side, lefty Bryce DePriest also had to overcome a rough start after being struck on the leg by a line drive back to the mound by leadoff hitter Hunter Whalen in the bottom of the first.
DePriest would remain in the game, as he went on to pitch 2.1 innings for Chesapeake and held the Rockets to two runs on three hits, before being lifted in favor of Casey McComas.
McComas held Wellston's bats in check, working 4.2 innings of one-run baseball, with three strikeouts and one walk.
Chase Wicker went 1-for-3 with a double and drove in all of Wellston's runs in the bottom of the third inning. Whalen finished 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and a walk, while Connor Bates and Graham chipped in with one hit apiece.
It was the final game for five Wellston seniors, including Whalen, Wicker, Bates, Nick Cox and Noah Henry.
"The two hardest days of coaching is on day one when you pass out equipment and the last game," Stevens said. "It's just hard saying goodbye to this group of seniors. They started four-years ago with me and I'm really going to miss those guys.
"I got a little emotional with them after the game and they probably thought I was a big pansy, but they really mean a lot to me and they mean a lot to our program. They attributed a lot to where this program is right now."
Chesapeake wasted no time getting after Graham, as they took advantage of two errors by the Rockets to take an early 1-0 lead. McComas singled and advanced to second on a throwing error to lead things off. He went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Evan Burcham and scored on a squeeze bunt by Dalton Nida, who reached as a result of a fielding error.
Then Zach Wright followed with a home run beyond the left field fence to take a 3-0 lead.
The Panthers strung together three hits to push across two more runs in the top of the second inning, as McComas delivered a two-run double to extend the lead to 5-0.
Wellston got three runs back in the bottom of the third, as Bates singled and Graham was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Nick Cox then reached on a fielder's choice and Bates went to third.
At that point, McComas relieved DePriest, but couldn't put an end to things, as Zach Dress walked to load the bases and Wicker followed with a three-run double into the gap in left-center field to put the Rockets within striking distance.
However, that would be all they could muster, as McComas went on to retire the next 14 Wellston batters.
"We had a chance to add a couple extra runs, but we just didn't get the big hit when we needed to," Stevens said. "Give Chesapeake credit. They are a good team. They put the ball in play and I don't think they made any mistakes defensively.
"They just played a solid game and we didn't. That was the difference."
Chesapeake added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh to push the advantage to four, and McComas finished things off for the Panthers in the bottom of the seventh.