Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — Taking over a Wheelersburg baseball program that was left behind by, arguably, the greatest coach in its history is a big deal.
But if anybody can fill those shoes, it’s a person that’s arguably one of the greatest players in program history to this day.
Derek Moore, who went 36-0 on the mound at Wheelersburg and parlayed that success into two Division III State Championships and a full ride scholarship to Shawnee State University, will step in for the man who guided him to those accolades, Michael Estep.
Moore, 24, says the ability to take hold of a program that is near and dear to his heart is simply due to God’s grace.
“I’m really just grateful and glad for the opportunity,” Moore said. “I’m glad that (Michael) Estep could go out on his own terms. It was more of a family thing for him. His family has done a lot for a lot of years, and now he’s going to give that time back to them. I was in the right spot at the right time, and God’s timing is always perfect. It’s just one of those things where it worked out for me, and I’m definitely excited for it.”
A four-year letterman in baseball and basketball, Moore was already a rock-solid player in the latter sport but truly exceptional in the former as a high schooler. During his varsity career, he garnered his perfect 36-0 mark while leading Wheelersburg to a 115-11 overall record from 2010-2013.
The state championship victories, against Lima Central Catholic in 2012 and Bloom-Carroll in 2013, were the highlights of an outstanding tenure under Estep’s direction — one where the Pirates won 10 consecutive Division III District Championships and garnered six consecutive trips to the state semifinals from 2010 to 2015. Wheelersburg also made a Final Four trip in 2008. In 2009, 2016, and 2017, the Pirates lost in the Division III regional finals — to the eventual Division III state champion in all three of those years.
At the center of that success was Moore, who blazed his own trail at Shawnee State. In his freshman season alone, he posted the best season in history, regardless of year, going an incredible 10-2 with a 1.50 ERA. The Bears went from 9-15 in the Mid-South Conference before Moore’s arrival to 14-12 while providing a level of excitement never before seen.
After serving as Shawnee State’s No. 1 option on the mound, Moore began to assist with Wheelersburg’s baseball program following the end of his college baseball career. Moore then assisted with the staff all of last season before getting the nod this year.
While playing for Wheelersburg, Shawnee State and, eventually, the Chillicothe Paints, Moore soaked up the game like a sponge, learning everything he could about the game.
“You’re playing with a bunch of different guys,” Moore said. “You’re playing with guys who come from all over the place, and you’re picking their brains because you may learn something yourself. You learn from different coaches, as well. I had coach Estep and the whole staff, which was and is the best in the state. They do everything the right way. Then, you’ve got (Ted) Tom, (Phillip) Butler, and (Chris) Moore, and I learned certain things from them that were very valuable to myself. I’ve been around a lot of baseball knowledge. My dad (Bruce) knows a lot, and then there’s the Chillicothe Paints, who I played for during the summer. There’s a lot of good baseball minds that I’ve been able to be around.”
It also helps to have strong leadership that is known for a penchant of winning … which is what Moore now inherits.
Multi-sport athletes Trey Carter, Jalen Miller, Connor Mullins, Athan Temponeras, and Evan Dahm head up a five-man senior class. Carter serves as a utility player and plays hard wherever he’s placed, Miller and Mullins comprise an infield duo that is as strong as any one could hope to find, Temponeras is a multi-year starter in the outfield and brings a power bat to the table, and Dahm has filled infield needs at first and third base in the past.
“That senior class is going to be huge for us this year,” Moore said. “I couldn’t have walked into a better group and team of seniors who care about the game, care about winning, and care about getting better everyday. They’re all guys who are going to be enormous for us and are all guys who are working hard in order to get better.”
Below that, there’s a ton of talent, especially when one looks at Will Darling — another multi-sport athlete who had an outstanding summer with Post 23 on the mound and in the infield.
He’s joined by fellow junior Cole Ratcliff, who Moore is very high on as far as his overall improvement is concerned. And when one adds in Jarrett Stamper and Josiah Richendollar, among others, the Pirates have a great deal of potential at every position in the lineup.
“You go down through the classes, and you’ve got guys who really care about the game,” Moore said. “Will is an example of that. He’s going to be huge for us. Last year, he was more of a utility guy who played as we needed him. But this year, he’s going to be an everyday guy for us and will hopefully step into that role. Cole will be huge for us as well. I know that he’s been working hard playing fall ball and worked out this winter. Hopefully, it’ll all start to click for him. He’ll be a No. 2 or No. 3 guy on the mound for us, and that’ll give us an extra push that will hopefully allow us to reclaim the SOC championship and go even further.”
Helping Moore in his progression as the head coach will be the return of every assistant around him from 2018 including Matt Conn, Andy Heimbach, Tim Sutton, Shane Kemper, Ryan Walker and Ryan Etterling, who will return as the program’s junior varsity coach.
“Our goals are to win championships and to teach kids how to do things the right way like coach Estep, (Andy) Heimbach, and the rest of our coaching staff already have done,” Moore said. “That’s definitely something to look forward to, and I’m definitely grateful that I’ve been able to be around those guys. I sat back and watched them to just focus on them in order to see what I would do or how I should handle certain situations. It was definitely good for me to be able to sit back, watch, and absorb. That’s what’s going to help me throughout this season and my upcoming career.”
It’s a career that Moore hopes will be as fruitful as the one he pieced together during his playing days.
“Time has really flown by,” Moore said. If you are having fun doing it and love doing it, it’s a good thing that you get to keep doing it for so long. It goes by fast because you get to see and meet new faces and players. It’s really cool. I hate that it went by so fast because it’s different to sit on the coaching side, not be on the mound, and do what I always loved to do. But it’s going to be even more rewarding now being able to coach these young guys, and hopefully, lead them in the right direction.”