WHEELERSBURG — With any young, talented baseball player, the hope for his coach is that he competes to the very last pitch of any game.
Across the entire area, there may not be a better definition of somebody who hangs on every pitch until the final out like Wheelersburg’s Trey Carter.
The senior utility player — who hasn’t only started for Wheelersburg’s baseball program over his entire career but has also served as a leadoff hitter and an ace — has certainly left a lasting impact that others will attempt to follow over the course of their own careers.
To do that, however, they’ll need to match Carter’s passion, competitiveness, and sheer knack for making plays in game-changing moments.
“As with every sport you play here at Wheelersburg, the support and environment is just unbelievable. But for me, baseball is what I love and being a vital part of this program has been an honor,” Carter said. “I’ve been waiting for this day since my little league days. To be able to put on the Wheelersburg baseball uniform was a dream and once I finally got to experience it, I knew how special it was. It’s been an amazing experience playing here. Our programs have been blessed with exceptional athletes and coaching staffs, and the support from our families and our fans is unmatched. The expectations are set high and each year the bar is raised. We just keep working hard.”
In addition to his time on the baseball diamond, Carter’s also been a key hand on the football field. The wide receiver, who doubled at cornerback, was a key reserve in the latter area as a junior by making 16 tackles and notching a pick while aiding Wheelersburg to a 15-0 record and a Division V State Championship.
Injury cut Carter’s senior season essentially in half and hurt what would’ve arguably been an all-Southeast District caliber year, but even in reduced games, the senior still made 16 tackles and tallied two interceptions while catching nine passes for 139 years and a touchdown this past fall — helping lead the Pirates back to a Division V state semifinal.
However, it’s been clear that baseball was his sport.
So far, Carter has been a part of two SOC II championship teams, as well as two units in 2016 and 2017 that won Division III district championships.
Throughout that time, Carter has accomplished a litany of accolades through various big game performances. That includes a critical five-inning relief effort in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in the 2017 Division III regional semifinals and a 10-inning pitching outing in the 2018 district semifinals against Valley … he also had the Pirates’ only three hits that night.
“Going into my freshman year, I wanted nothing more than to make the varsity team, so I did everything in my power to make it,” Carter said. “Once I got there, I started first base most of the season and then moved to the outfield for the tournament. My coach and teammates believing in me gave me the confidence I needed to go out there freshman and sophomore year and deliver the way that I did. I was very grateful for the opportunity because it’s not often that a freshman or sophomore starts at Wheelersburg. Last year, I knew I had to step into a leadership role. I would not be such a competitive player had I not gotten to experience coach Estep. His belief and passion of the game just does something to you, which is what made me the player I am today. It’s no secret that I’ve always loved the game, but being around him made me love it even more and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
Wheelersburg ultimately fell to Valley, 2-1, in 11 innings, failing to advance to the regional tournament for the first time since 2007 — but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort.
“Trey was 7-0 coming into the game, and that’s where it stays,” former Wheelersburg head coach Michael Estep said following the Valley game. “I feel like he’s gotten better through the season. He had the game at Minford [ a 9-8 loss], but from there on, he was outstanding and definitely established himself as a clear-cut number one on our team.”
“When I pitch, I feel like I’m setting the tempo for the whole game,” Carter said. “There’s no better feeling than dominating the batter at the plate, like painting the corner on a called strike three or getting him to chase a breaking ball. I like to keep them guessing. In the field, I love getting to do my thing and whoever is pitching knows I have his back.”
This year, things are certainly changing in some ways. Estep, arguably one of the most successful coaches if not the most successful coach to ever set foot on a baseball diamond in the Southeast District, has retired.
In other ways, however, things are staying the same.
Connor Mullins, Jalen Miller, and Athan Temponeras, each multi-year starters and respectable players in their own right, are continuing to produce in multiple facets. And Trent Salyers and Justin Salyers have joined them en route to doing the same. Then, there’s newly hired coach Derek Moore, who, with a 36-0 mark during his high school career on the mound, shares the identical type of competitiveness the program has become known for.
“It’s a new environment this year without Estep but the foundation that he has laid in the program is an unmistakable one,” Carter said. “Moving into this year, there were adjustments we had to make as a team having a new head coach. But coach Moore has stepped in and it honestly feels like he’s been with us for years. To be successful as a team this year, I know it’s crucial for all of us to hold each other accountable, have respect for one another, and work hard. Yes, we fell short last year But my five senior brothers and I plan on doing big things this season. It’s going to be a season I’ll never forget and with it being my senior year, it’s my job to lead the way. I’m looking forward to it and I hope that we make coach Moore’s first year a good one.”
Together, the entire program is fueled by last season, where Wheelersburg was stripped of an SOC II conference championship for the first time in 13 years in addition to the aforementioned regional tournament streak.
The 2019 unit not only wants to get back to that point, but reach the OHSAA Final Four for the first time since 2015 and restart a new streak, similar to the one where the Pirates obtained six consecutive trips to the OHSAA Division III state semifinals.
“They definitely left big shoes to fill,” Carter said of his predecessors. “It has never just been about the performance on the field. Xander [Carmichael], [Marshall pitcher] Wade Martin, and Austin May … there’s too many to name, really. Yeah, they won championships, but they were also respectable people off the field so it was easy to look up to guys like that. People like that make you want to work hard and follow in their successes.”
For Carter, winning the conference title is step one for what he hopes will be a season of redemption.
“The first thing is to clinch the SOC for sure,” Carter said. “We slipped up last Wednesday against Minford, but we definitely don’t plan on doing it again. I’m confident in my team and believe we can go as far as possible. We refuse to let one game determine the rest of our season.”
Beyond that, however, the senior is simply thankful to play with the teammates that are his personal friends outside of both sports.
“Hands down, the best years of my life have been spent on both of those fields,” Carter said. “They’re my brothers. It’s going to be hard when we all go our separate ways next fall, but our bond is solid and I’m blessed to know them.”