South Range clinches state baseball berth
By DAN HINER
The South Range and Grand Valley baseball teams met during the regular season. The Raiders beat Grand Valley for a road win on April 21.
The two team met again in the Division III regional final at Massillon Washington High School and it was the same result. The South Range beat the Mustangs 4-2 on Friday to advance to the program’s first state semifinal.
South Range’s Jake Gehring pitched the Raiders (16-15) past Waynedale in the regional semifinal. On Friday, Gehring made an impact at the plate, driving in two runs on an RBI single and a sacrifice fly.
“We had a game plan going in. We knew what [Grand Valley pitcher Gordon Seger] threw,” Gehring said. “We knew he had a decent curveball, so we had to let the ball travel and let our swings take over.”
Seger allowed four runs on seven hits in 21/3 innings.
Sam Brooks pitched six-plus innings in the win. Brooks (5-2) allowed one run on five hits and three walks while striking out six.
Brandon Youngs relieved Brooks in the top of the seventh after the Raiders’ starter allowed a leadoff walk. Youngs allowed one run on a hit and a walk, but struck out Seger for the save.
Grand Valley (17-8) stranded six runners in scoring position, and could have cut into a 4-1 deficit in the sixth.
The Mustangs loaded the bases with one out, and Brooks went 3-0 to Derek Jackson. But Brooks fought back and struck out Jackson and David Nye to end the inning.
“I always try to keep my composure and it always helps when my team’s behind me — they made some huge plays for me today,” Brooks said. “I always try to take a deep breath before every pitch and hope that I can succeed.”
Jared Bajerski scored on a RBI double by Ben Rivera and Gehring’s sacrifice fly drove in Brycen James to get the Raiders on the board in the first.
Gehring’s RBI single drove in James in the third and Mike Cunningham hit a sacrifice fly to score Rivera to take a 4-0 lead.
Rivera went 2 for 3 with an RBI and run scored while James went 2 for 4 with two runs scored.
Grand Valley’s Gary Gearhart went 1 for 3 with two runs scored. Logan Newell and Michael McGovern both drove in a run for the Mustangs.
South Range will play Madeira in the state semifinal on Thursday at Huntington Park in Columbus. Madeira beat Blanchester 4-0 and to win the Xenia region.
“I’m just pleased for my players, my coaches,” South Range head coach Jim Hanek said. “It’s a dream right now ... no question. It’s hard to put into words. There’s a lot of emotions running through my head.
“I’m thrilled. It’s just the best word I can use.”
Members of the South Range student body brought a bubble machine to Massillon for both regional games. Brooks said the fans think the machine is their good luck charm.
Every time the Raiders get a hit, a key out or score the South Range stands fill with bubbles.
The players and Hanek didn’t understand the superstition, but the Raiders won’t turn away the good luck either.
“Hey, load up on [the bubbles],” Hanek said. “That’s what I say.”