South Range, Ursuline return to baseball regionals

Staff file photo / Neel Madhavan South Range’s Julian Tranovich (4) attempts to tag Ursuline’s Anthony Triveri (22) at home plate during the teams’ game on April 29 at Bob Cene Park.

Ursuline and South Range have taken different paths to get to this point in the 2024 baseball season, but regardless of how they got here, both have made it to the regional tournament.

The Irish, who head coach Paul Kempe accurately predicted would experience “ups and downs” throughout the season, shook off five losses in their final six regular-season games to make their second regional appearance in three years.

The Raiders were largely expected to get back to regionals all along. As three-time defending district champions, South Range lived up to its own lofty expectations by dominating the district tournament and ensuring its seniors’ fourth consecutive district title.

But the road ahead for both teams remains increasingly difficult. Ursuline, a young team that has found its groove at the perfect time, must overcome West Branch, one of the highest-ranked teams in the state, while South Range has the opportunity to avenge its regional final loss from a year ago against the two-time reigning state champion Waynedale.


After graduating nine seniors, Ursuline had the unenviable task of reloading its roster while still trying to remain competitive.

“With the schedule we play, we’re going to be battle-tested and we’re going to go through ups and downs as every team does,” Kempe said in March before the season. “It’s how we overcome it.”

The ups included a season-opening win over Warren JFK, a mid-April triumph over Canfield, and late-season wins over South Range and rival Cardinal Mooney. The downs were four straight losses after beating Kennedy and an eight-day stretch in which Ursuline lost five games just before the start of the postseason.

“We weren’t playing to our potential,” Kempe said. “I think we were really uptight, and we just weren’t being ourselves.”

But just as Kempe said, it’s how they overcame it.

“We’ve had a ton of ups and downs, and we really challenged our guys going into the tournament,” he said. “And they’ve stepped up and answered everything we’ve had.”

Kempe enlisted Ursuline alum and current Youngstown State quarterback Brady Shannon to help motivate his team ahead of the district tournament, and whether it was Shannon or the players themselves, something clicked.

Joe Balog threw a perfect game in the team’s 14-0 sectional semifinal victory over Chaney before Ursuline, the ninth seed, upset No. 1 seed Poland 2-1 to win the sectional final. The Irish then knocked out the second-seeded Alliance and secured the Division II, Northeast 1 district championship with another victory against Canfield.

“Our kids have done a great job bonding throughout these last two and a half weeks, this tournament run,” Kempe said. “They’re doing a lot of things together outside of baseball, and it makes it even more special.”

South Range’s season has been a smoother ride. Unlike Ursuline, which entered the playoffs with a losing record, the Raiders tested themselves against solid competition and often came away victorious. But even when they did not, the experience of playoff-like games was invaluable.

“Over the course of the regular season playing some of those bigger schools, you’re able to be in situations, tight ballgames,” South Range coach Jim Hanek said. “Those are the type of games we’re fortunate to have over the course of the regular season.”

The Raiders handled business in the Division III, Northeast 2 district tournament, where they defeated Hanoverton United 7-2 before overwhelming Garrettsville Garfield 11-1 in a five-inning demolition.

Four district championships in a row is not only an accomplishment to celebrate but also proof of a program working in every aspect.

“I got to thank my coaches,” Hanek said. “My coaches help an awful lot in regards to improving the kids as they enter into the program. And the players themselves play a huge, huge part in this. The departing seniors each year, that senior class really does a nice job of taking the freshmen under their wing.

“I think it’s been a product of the upperclassmen kind of bringing the underclassmen along. Good players bring everyone else with them.”


Each team is set to play on Thursday, May 30, in their respective regional semifinals. South Range will meet familiar foe Waynedale, while Ursuline will face West Branch, which shut out the Irish 3-0 in late March.

“We played them early on in the season,” Kempe said of the West Branch rematch. “And there’s one thing I’ll say about that: we’re both completely different teams right now.”

South Range and Waynedale’s teams are obviously also different from their meeting in the regional final, but the Raiders have not forgotten their 14-1, season-ending defeat from last June.

“The kids remember that game,” Hanek said. “They’re looking forward to it. They’re excited. They’re excited to get another shot at that opponent in Waynedale. And our kids are looking forward to the challenge.”

To further prepare themselves and break up the downtime between district and regional games, South Range and Ursuline will play each other in a tune-up game Tuesday.

The Irish will play their regional semifinal at 2 p.m. on Thursday at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium in Canton. South Range will travel back to Massillon, the same place its season ended last season, for a 5 p.m. game Thursday.

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


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