Justin Wheeler wasn't happy with the showing in his first two plate appearances Thursday against South Pittsburg, so the Chattanooga Christian School senior widened his stance.
It didn't pay off until he led off the bottom of the ninth inning. With an 0-for-4 showing at that point, the center fielder worked the count to 3-1, got a pitch he liked and blistered a shot down the left-field line that he converted into a triple.
"I was looking for something I could drive," Wheeler said. "I was thinking three (bases) from the beginning. I just let it rip — running like a tiger was chasing me."
It set the stage for Chris King, whose hard shot just inside the foul line skipped off the fielder's glove and created enough time for Wheeler to nail down the Chargers' 2-1 extra-innings victory over the visiting Pirates.
"John had been struggling a little bit today, not quite getting the barrel to (the pitch). I told him at 3-1, if he got his pitch, to get the barrel to it," said CCS coach Ben Wharton, who has led the team to a 9-2 start in his first season.
"It was big. Getting him to third changed the game."
South Pittsburg (7-5) came within an out of nailing down a 1-0 victory in seven innings, but the Chargers' Alex Phillips singled to left-center field, moved to second on Nathaniel Kapp's sacrifice, then scored on Amos Davenport's second double.
The Pirates got their lone run in the first by bunching three hits, including Hogan Holland's double that scored Cade Kennemore, whose first plate appearance yielded a single to center.
"We have to get better at the plate. We've had two games in a row where we're putting the ball in play but can't seem to get anything going," Pirates coach Brian Paris said. "I told the guys after the game that it's frustrating for all of us. We're putting balls in play, and eventually good things will happen."
Added Wharton: "The way both teams had been hitting, I probably would've expected something more along the lines of a 9-8 game. I guess that's baseball."
The Chargers got six good innings from Joseph Wharton, who finished with a five-hitter. John Rhodes got the win, his first of the year.
"Joseph doesn't overpower people, but he's always around the plate," his coach and elder brother said. "After the first inning he settled in well. I'm not sure they got a runner past second after that."
The Pirates also got a quality pitching performance from Jess Morrison, who scattered five hits over the first six innings before getting touched for the game-tying run in the seventh.
"I've got to throw him out there in our biggest games," Paris said. "We started him against East Hamilton and Cleveland and today. He has good command of the strike zone, and he's around the plate all the time."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.