Pauline, Wilt lift South Range to 2nd straight Division III regional title with 1-0 victory over Champion

Wilt throws no hitter, Pauline hits walk-off inside-the-park HR in bottom of 8th inning

Staff photo / Neel Madhavan. South Range players dogpile on Giada Pauline at home plate after she hit the walk-off inside-the-park home run to beat Champion for the Division III regional championship on Friday in Avon.

AVON — Just like last year, seven innings weren’t enough to determine a regional champion between Champion and South Range.

But also like last year, it was the Raiders that would prevail, as Giada Pauline’s walk-off inside-the-park home run helped South Range hold off the Golden Flashes 1-0 in eight innings to capture its second straight Division III regional title.

“I had no doubts that we wouldn’t get back to the same spot as we did last year,” Pauline said. “We are a great team both offensively and defensively.”

After 7.5 scoreless innings, with two outs already on the board in the bottom of the eighth, Pauline belted a liner that dipped just in front of Champion’s right fielder and rolled to the right field fence.

Pauline took off and kept running as fast as she could with both head coach Jeff DeRose and third-base coach Don Feren frantically waving her around the bases.

“When (Pauline) hit that ball, it couldn’t have been any more perfect,” DeRose said. “It kind of skipped in. The right fielder tried to converge on the ball, and it got behind her. And when she went to pick it up, I just said to (Pauline), ‘Go! Just keep going!’ When I saw her fumble the ball out there, the first thing I did was glance at Don and he had her going all the way. This (turf) is slippery, so I was just praying that she didn’t fall down.”

As the ball bounced back into the infield from the Flashes’ fielders, Pauline dove across home plate to beat Champion catcher Addie Warzala and score the game-winning run to send the Raiders back to Firestone Stadium in Akron next week for the state semifinals.

After scoring, the Raiders’ bench emptied and the whole team dogpiled onto Pauline at home plate in celebration.

“I’m rounding first, and I see my third-base coach, Mr. Feren, and he’s just saying ‘Come on! Come on!’ So I just put the gas on my feet and just went with it,” Pauline said. “My gosh, I was so happy. I don’t even know how to explain it. It was just a great feeling.”

For seven innings, neither team’s potent hitting attack was able to break through.

South Range’s best chance to end the deadlock came in the bottom of the third inning after loading the bases with two outs after a hit and two walks. But Champion’s Gabby Gradishar was able to see out the threat. Gradishar finished with 14 strikeouts and just two walks, while giving up four hits.

Despite not recording a hit, Champion was able to get a base runner into scoring position three different times — the top of the first, second and seventh innings. The Flashes were able to get on base with a walk, then stole second base each time. Champion was even able to move Sam Strock as far as third base in the second.

But, South Range pitcher Jayli Wilt rose to the occasion at each junction and was able to get out of each inning unscathed.

DeRose said Wilt threw almost nothing down the middle of the strike zone, adding that she pitched away, up and mixed in some off speed to keep the Flashes off balanced.

“I just knew I had to hit my spots, and I did pretty good at hitting my spots,” Wilt said. “When you hit your spots, stuff like that’s going to happen. You’re not going to get a strikeout every single time — that’s something I had to learn throughout the year. But I did what I had to do and we got the outs that we needed to get. I have all the faith in the world in my defense, so I knew as long as I hit my spots, we were going to win this game.”

The Raiders shut down the Flashes’ offense, as Wilt pitched a complete-game no hitter. Wilt finished with eight strikeouts to go with five walks.

“I had no idea until Coach Feren told me when we got our medals,” Wilt said. “It was just the best feeling because Champion is such a good team, and I just knew what I had to do and thankfully I did it.”

Champion was able to put the bat on the ball in almost every at bat. But whenever the Flashes were able to put in play, it would just end up as a pop up in the infield or a fly ball directly to one of the Raiders’ outfielders.

“When we hit the ball, we hit the ball hard, but we hit right to people,” Champion head coach Cheryl Weaver said. “All coaches know, we’ve all had games like that, and we just couldn’t get one that would fall in the gap for us. So hats off to (South Range). I wish them luck against (South Webster).”

The Flashes finish the season 22-5 and as Division III regional runner up. Champion is set to return the bulk of its roster next season with just one senior — Bella Meyer — graduating this year. Meyer is signed to play for Youngstown State next year.

“I loved having (Meyer), so it’s a tough one,” Weaver said. “She really wanted (South Range) this year and to get to states, too. We wanted to do it for her, but we fell short. … It hurts like heck, especially in a game like this — extra innings and 0-0. One hit is all you need.”

South Range will move on to the state semifinal at Firestone Stadium in Akron next week. The Raiders will face South Webster at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. The Jeeps defeated two-time defending state champion Wheelersburg 4-3 on Friday.

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


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