Fast start spurs South Range in 10-2 regional semifinal victory vs. Massillon Tuslaw

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan. South Range's Solena DeJesus fist bumps third base coach Don Feren after hitting a two-run home run in the Raiders' regional semifinal victory over Massillon Tuslaw on Wednesday in Berea.

BEREA — South Range centerfielder Solena DeJesus started off the season leading off the Raiders’ potent batting order.

But she wasn’t producing the way the coaching staff was expecting her to. So, they moved her to the No. 7 spot in the team’s lineup. Since then, DeJesus has been “one of the team’s best hitters,” according to head coach Jeff DeRose.

“It’s like OK, now do we move her back because she’s putting down the ball?” DeRose said. “I think she’s comfortable in that spot, and I’m going to keep her there.”

DeJesus continued her success at the plate on Wednesday, going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run that was part of a six-run first inning for the Raiders, as they rattled off a 10-2 victory over Massillon Tuslaw in the Division III regional semifinal at Roehm Athletic Complex in Berea.

“I was losing a little bit of confidence toward the beginning of the season,” DeJesus said of her early struggles. “But once I got into my groove, I felt like everything had connected. I had my girls at the top of the lineup, so I knew I just had to hit it.

“I’ve started a new mindset, where I just go into the box and have a clear mind. I know that I just need to get the bat on the ball.”

DeJesus is just a small part of what has been a high-octane offense all season for South Range.

Coming into Wednesday’s regional, the Raiders were averaging 10.2 runs per game this season. Through 29 games, South Range had eclipsed double-digit runs 19 times.

The Raiders equaled their season average against the Mustangs with 10 runs off 10 hits. In addition to DeJesus, Keira Brogan was 3-for-4 with three doubles, while Anna Aey was 2-for-4 with a solo shot homer in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“We just put the ball in play, and you see they weren’t all earned runs. We just make them make mistakes by being aggressive on the basepath,” DeRose said. “I know we’re going to hit the ball. I mean, Heidi (Bartels), our No. 9, hit a grand slam the other day. So, one through nine, plus I got girls on the bench that can also hit. We scored 10 runs against a good team late in the season. Putting up 10 runs against these guys is pretty special.”

It all started in the first inning for the Raiders.

After Keira Brogan popped up in the infield, Giada Pauline got on base after being hit by a pitch. Then, a ground-rule double from Aey moved the two into scoring position.

A walk for Jayli Wilt loaded the bases, before a sacrifice fly from Gretchen Bartels allowed Pauline to score from third base.

With two outs on the board, Ashley Rupert followed with a double that scored two more runs, before DeJesus’ home run added two more. Getting back to the top of the order, Brogan then hit the first of her three doubles to add the sixth and final run of the inning for South Range.

“We try to set the tone as early as we can,” DeRose said. “Six is never the goal. It’s obviously a luxury to get six, but we always try to put one, two or three runs up in the first inning — especially when you get to this level. It’s hard to come back and play from behind. I thought we got an unfortunate break because we had a runner at first that was going to easily score on that ball that was a ground-rule double. I’m thinking to myself, ‘here we go, the breaks aren’t coming our way already.’ Then all of a sudden, they came our way and we made them pay.”

Jayli Wilt went the distance with six strikeouts and just one walk in the circle for the Raiders. She gave up just five hits, with Tuslaw’s runs coming in the top of the fourth off a run scoring on a passed ball, then in the top of the fifth with a lead-off inside-the-park home run by Kaydence Chapman.

“Jayli pitched a hell of a game today, in my opinion,” DeRose said. “It’s easier — I have a daughter that was a pitcher — it’s easier when all you have to do is throw strikes and you know you have a defense and a lead. It makes your job easier and you don’t have all that weight on your shoulders. She’s good at having the weight on her shoulders, but she didn’t need that today.”

The win sets up a Division III regional final rematch with Champion on Friday at 5 p.m. at Roehm Athletic Complex. The Golden Flashes defeated Creston Norwayne 11-2 in the second regional semifinal on Wednesday. The Raiders beat the Flashes 8-4 in eight innings in last year’s regional final in Canton.

Have an interesting story? Contact Neel Madhavan by email at nmadhavan@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @NeelMadhavan.


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