South Range wins behind pitching gem
NILES — The second-seeded South Range Raiders baseball team giveth, and it taketh away.
The Raiders gave head coach Jim Hanek a special birthday present with a resounding 10-0 mercy rule victory over the 17th-seeded Crestview Rebels on Monday night at Wilder Field.
And Raiders sophomore starting pitcher Billy Skripac took away a five-inning perfect game as he dominated with eight strikeouts and no walks.
“It was nice. It was very thoughtful of them,” Hanek said about the team giving him a victory on his birthday.
The win improves the Raiders to 21-8 on the season as they advance to the Division III district final Wednesday night against top-seeded Rootstown at 5 p.m.
The Raiders made a statement in the bottom of the first inning when they scored six runs on five hits and two walks. Michael Perry knocked home the initial run when he lined a single to center field, plating Michael Markulin.
Stevie Rohan and Shane Lindstrom collected RBI singles around an RBI groundout by Cory Penick to drive home the inning’s final three runs. Two additional runs scored in the frame on wild pitches.
“That was huge,” Hanek said. “Especially in a tournament where it is a one-game format. You get momentum, where Billy retired the side 1-2-3 and we could go in to bat and take the lead and hold it.”
That first inning was all Skripac needed as he settled in and started finding his arsenal of pitches as the game wore on.
“I couldn’t spot my curveball in the first three innings. In the fourth and fifth inning I got it going,” Skripac said. “The fastball up in the zone. They gave a me a few strikes that were balls, but I just made sure to finish batters with 2-2, 1-2 (counts) and I feel I did a good job of doing that.”
Hanek had plenty to say about his pitcher.
“He has been solid for us all year and I had confidence in him going into today. He threw an absolute gem,” Hanek said. “He really commanded his fastball well, and he found the breaking ball from the third inning on.”
The Raiders invoked the mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth inning when English and Skripac started the frame with back-to-back singles. They both scored on a wild throw following a sacrifice bunt attempt by Rohan. Following a wild pitch scoring Rohan, Markulin lined a single to center to drive in Penick for the tenth run to close out the contest.
“This means everything to me,” Skripac said. “For me, being it’s the first time going into the playoffs and for the seniors trying to reclaim the 2018 title, it means everything.”
“Last year was frustrating to have to stand in front of the team and basically have to shut things down,” Hanek said. “Not just the team, but the seniors last year that it was officially over, that was rough. I think these guys want to prove themselves this year and make the most of this opportunity.”
The Rebels close the year with an 8-14 overall mark, and a solid 6-4 third-place mark in the MVAC Grey Division.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Rebels coach Kory Whitacre said. “Hats off to him (Skripac), he pitched a really good game. But our kids kept clawing and kept fighting right down to that last run. They played hard. We were kind of up and down this season. But we battled every game and that is all I can ask.”