South Range advances to district final with 9-6 win over Poland

Staff photo / Preston Byers South Range’s Riley DeCiancio celebrates during the Raiders’ 9-6 district semifinal win against Poland on Tuesday.

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — South Range completed a season sweep of Poland and eliminated the Bulldogs from the softball playoffs for the second consecutive season with a come-from-behind 9-6 win on Tuesday.

The Raiders found themselves trailing at two different points in the Division III, Northeast 1 district semifinal, but each time, South Range erased the deficit and took a lead of its own.

After the game, both coaches said they saw some similarities between Tuesday’s contest and last season’s district final, which the Raiders won on a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“Like last year’s team, we didn’t miss a beat at the plate hitting the ball,” South Range head coach Jeff DeRose said. “In fact, this team might be even a little bit better than last year’s team hitting the ball. But other than that, our girls don’t have a ‘die’ attitude. They always fight back, and we fought back from a deficit today.”

Poland got out to an early lead after a wild pitch by Jayli Wilt allowed Elliana Thompson, who hit a leadoff single, to score.

South Range responded immediately with five runs in the bottom of the first inning. Keira Brogan led off the half-inning with a double and eventually scored on a two-out single by Gretchen Bartels. That run created a proverbial avalanche of sorts, with South Range then scoring two on double, another run on a dropped third strike and the fifth run of the inning on a single.

While Poland cut into the Raiders’ lead slightly with a run in the second inning, the fourth inning would serve as the true platform for the Bulldogs’ comeback.

Poland scored four in the top of the fourth, taking a 6-5 lead, after the top of the Bulldogs’ order finally bested Wilt; Poland scored three runs on a single, bases-loaded walk and sacrifice fly before Thompson scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.

The fourth inning would be Wilt’s last in the circle, which DeRose said was not an easy decision to make.

“It was very difficult. Jayli carried us all year. I mean, she’s started and pitched in 22 games this year. And she carried us to this point, basically,” DeRose said.

Similarly to Wilt, Poland pitcher Olivia Horn struggled to fend off the Raiders’ bats. After the five-run bottom of the first, Horn seemed to settle into a groove, blanking South Range in the second and third innings.

However, the Raiders reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fourth. The tying run came on a sacrifice fly by Bartels, while Ashley Rupert, Wilt’s replacement in the circle, put South Range back in front with an RBI single.

Rupert helped herself out plenty with her relief pitching performance Tuesday. In three innings pitched, Rupert allowed just four hits and held the Bulldogs scoreless.

The Raiders added a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to give Rupert further insurance, but she did not need it, despite loading the bases. Rupert forced a pop out by Avery Jakubovic for the final out of the game.

After the win, DeRose commended his relatively young and inexperienced team for not shying away from adversity.

“It’s surprising to have a young team like that and have the resilience to actually come back and hit the ball and win the game and make plays on defense,” DeRose said. “But it doesn’t surprise me with this group of kids, because they all know the game mentally, and I think that they do a good job in focusing on what’s going on in front of them rather than getting down.”

While the win, South Range’s third over Poland this season, ensures the Raiders will play at least one more game, the result also ends the Bulldogs’ season.

“It’s hard to say goodbye to those two seniors (Mary Brant and Leanne Williams),” Poland head coach Jim Serich said. “They were so special for four years, both of them. They showed us the way.

“I’ve said this before; whoever flinches first loses. (South Range) didn’t flinch. We flinched a couple of times and gave them some free runs. When you do that against a good team, you make it hard to come out on the top side.”

South Range (25-3) will play Columbiana at home on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the district championship game.

Have an interesting story? Contact Preston Byers by email at pbyers@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @PresByers.


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