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South Range baseball looked great on paper

Editor’s note: Despite the fact the high school spring sports season in Ohio has been canceled before it got started, the Vindicator and Tribune Chronicle will continue to profile area teams and athletes. Readers should approach the stories with the attitude of “What might have been.”

If this year’s baseball season was played on paper — and that appears to be the only way it will be played — South Range looked to be one of the last team’s standing, again.

The Raiders, who won the school’s first state title in 2018, brought back two players who have verbally committed to Ohio State in Jake Gehring and Trey Pancake. There was another returning starter who hit over .400 last year and a slew of young talent itching for the chance to bring South Range back to the state level.

“You don’t want to come out and say that,” said coach James Hanek of possessing the ability to return to state. “I’m more of a day-by-day type mentality guy. Like, hey, today’s Monday, let’s be better Tuesday, let’s be better here and there. But yeah, no question, when you sit back and think, talent-wise, absolutely, this team here had that potential. And I think there are a handful of teams that could make that claim.”

Not many others could boast the kind of talent of the Raiders.

Gehring and Pancake, both juniors, lead the way. The right-handed Gehring throws in the low 90s, but it’s his off-speed pitches that make him one of Ohio’s top prospects. The arsenal led to a school-record 100 strikeouts in 2019 to go along with a 1.13 ERA and an 8-0 record. He walked just 12 of the 210 batters he faced over 55 2/3 innings.

Oh, and he led the team in hitting with a .415 batting average. But it’s on the mound where he thrives, and Hanek said Gehring’s “mental toughness” is as impressive as his physical skill.

“I remember his freshman year at the regional game,” Hanek recalled. “He started, and he didn’t really have a feel for his breaking ball in the first inning. He wasn’t sharp. As soon as the first inning was over, he ran right down into the bullpen. Not a single coach had to go tell him (anything). He grabbed the catcher, ran right down to the bullpen and got to work on it. He figured it out and was lights out the rest of the way.”

While Gehring posted the best batting average in 2019, Hanek said Pancake is the Raiders’ best all-around hitter.

The strong-and-speedy catcher (he played shortstop last year to help the team) hit .360 and led the team in hits (36), runs (36), doubles (9), triples (6), slugging percentage (.600) and stolen bases (27). He was second in walks (15) and RBIs (23) – one behind the leader in each category.

None of that, necessarily, is what makes Pancake so special, Hanek said. It’s his baseball IQ.

“There was a bullpen session going on (at practice last year),” he explained. “I walk in, and my pitchers were throwing up in the mezzanine. (Pancake) is standing there watching, and he turns to me and goes, ‘I can tell every pitch he’s throwing. I can see every pitch.’ …

“He’s very good at picking up on pitcher’s tendencies — the little things that separate the great players from the average ones. It’s not just all about the physical ability. He’s very good at picking up on the little nuances of knowing when they’re throwing over (to first base) and when they’re going to the plate.”

Their abilities may have overshadowed a phenomenal season from Brandon Mikos.

Another junior, Mikos was right behind Gehring in batting average at .412. He trailed Pancake in total hits by one and led the Raiders in RBIs (27). He also belted seven doubles and, as a pitcher, struck out 42 in 33 1/3 innings.

Senior Kris Scandy was another major contributor. He hit .333 with 21 RBIs in 2019. Dylan Dominguez, a sophomore, was another starter last year, when the Raiders went 24-6 and won the Northeast-8 Conference.

With a roster size of 27, Pancake believed the blend of veterans with an anxious group of underclassmen was just bursting with possibilities.

“Our potential was through the roof,” said Pancake, who was recruited as a catcher. “I feel we would’ve been the best team coming back into (the season) because we’ve all been playing together for so long, that we’d all be on the same page. Even if we did have that break, when we came back, we’d have the best chemistry. We’d hold our own fate.”

With most of the core returning, maybe the Raiders will get a chance to see where their fate lies in 2021.

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