Fab frosh Gehring pitches Raiders into final
By Greg Gulas
South Range had played in three of the last five district finals yet entered Wednesday’s Division III semifinal contest with Crestview still smarting from last year’s early tournament exit at the hands of the Rebels.
If the Raiders were to atone for last season’s loss and make it a fourth championship appearance in six years, then freshman pitcher Jake Gehring would be the one to get them there.
Gehring (6-2) responded with a complete game four-hitter, striking out seven and Brandon Youngs’ three-run double and Bryce James’ two-run single accounted for all of South Range’s runs in a 5-1 victory over Crestview at Bob Cene Park.
“I trust my stuff, trust my teammates behind me and wanted the ball today,” Gehring said. “Other than my fastball, nothing was really working for me but late in the fifth inning I did start to find my slider. Being able to locate my pitches also helped.”
The Raiders (13-15) struck first, scoring three unearned runs in the second inning for an early 3-0 advantage.
Josh Steer and Mike Cunningham led off the inning with back-to-back singles, loading the bases after Jared Bajerski drew a two-out walk.
After a Youngs pop-up was dropped by Crestview third baseman James Fitzgerald in foul territory, Youngs seized the opportunity and made the Rebels pay by roping a bases-clearing double up the center-field alley.
“After the ball was dropped, I was grateful for new life. I knew deep down that I could make an impact,” Youngs said. “I needed to make a big play, was looking for a fastball and got then one that I wanted right down the middle.
Youngs was impressed by Gehring’s work.
Jake is just a freshman, but he’s the ace of our staff and was excellent today,” Youngs said. “When he goes to the mound we’re a really confident group behind him. He has a contagious energy that just gets us going.”
South Range extended its lead to 5-0 in the fourth inning on a two-run single by James.
“He [Tyler Hurd] was mixing up his pitches and I was thinking fastball. I was happy to be able to drive the one that he threw me,” James said. “A game like this gives us some much-needed momentum heading to Thursday’s championship game with Mogadore.”
Mogadore beat Columbiana 3-2 in nine innings in another semifinal Wednesday.
Raiders head coach Jim Hanek didn’t dwell on last season’s loss, instead made sure his team remembered the disappointing feeling they had when they walked of the field last May.
“We lost eight seniors from last year’s team, but still had a lot of players on our roster who played a season ago. They already knew the feeling,” Hanek said. “We were thinking that since there is no tomorrow and we needed to win in order to play on Thursday, Jake is the ace of our staff and the guy we looked at throwing today. He had a couple of rough patches but was able to pitch out of them. I felt like he got stronger as the game progressed.”
Crestview ended its season 10-10.