Even with a title to its credit, South Range pledges not to look back at 2018
By Dan Hiner
South Range pitcher Jake Gehring has the letters “WHPH” stitched into his glove. The letters stand for “Work hard, play hard.”
The Raiders baseball team has taken those words to heart over the past few months.
Nearly a year removed from the first state championship in program history, the Raiders are focused on the 2019 season.
The team even made a rule preventing players from talking about their playoff run.
“[Last season] is in the rearview mirror,” South Range head coach Jim Hanek said. “I think we definitely could take from that experience. Guys are coming in confident, as they should. We don’t want to dwell on it, it was last year and our focus is this year.”
South Range returns most of its team from last season — seniors Mike Cunningham, Brycen James and Brandon Youngs graduated.
Cunningham and James were a part of the pitching staff, but Trey Pancake will be added to the rotation.
The team also will rely on senior Sam Brooks and Gehring on the mound. Brooks finished the year with a 6-2 record while Gehring went 8-2.
“We definitely have a target on our back, but that’s something I know,” Gehring said. “For myself, I put that target on my own back, so for me, it’s just another year — you gotta take it game by game and not really thing about [last season].”
Six of the Raiders’ starting nine players return in their lineup. Leadoff hitter Jared Bajerski and cleanup hitter Ben Rivera are returning for their senior seasons.
Bajerski and Rivera were tied for the team lead with 39 hits last season. Bajerski was third on the team with a .451 on-base percentage and Rivera was second to Gehring in RBIs (24).
“It’s great knowing that nine of our hitters — our entire lineup — can hit, can hit for power and do their jobs,” Bajerski said. “You don’t have to worry about anything because, with everyone else, they can get the job done.”
The schedule will provide a new challenge for the Raiders. Last season, South Range was an independent and scheduled Division II teams. This year, the Raiders are a part of the Northeast 8 Conference, but still kept a difficult non-conference schedule.
The non-conference schedule includes Boardman, Ursuline and Cardinal Mooney. Their conference schedule will feature Niles, the Division II district runner-up, and Poland, which lost to Niles in the District semifinals.
“[In the Northeast 8] every school’s larger than us — we’re in Division III,” Hanek said. “All our league-member schools are in Division II, so that bodes well for us.
“A lot of good success in our league. They’ve had success in their Division II tournament. We’re looking at it as heading into a meat grinder of sorts.”
The Raiders will open their season at conference opponent Lakeview. The Bulldogs beat South Range 2-1 last season.
“Last year, a lot of things aligned,” Hanek said. “To make a run as deep as we did, it takes some alignment as well as playing good ball. Our focus right now, like I said, we’re looking to attack the league here on Monday.
“League play starts and we want to get off to a good start there. We’re just looking to get better and better each day.”
Gehring will go to Columbus
During the offseason, Gehring verbally committed to Ohio State.
He said the commitment was the best decision for his family and something he could build on throughout his high school career.
“Definitely the exposure [from the state title run] helped a little bit,” Gehring said. “The bigger tournaments you play, the more exposure you get.
“I think my teammates helping me out all along and the coaches I had really helped me.”