GREENFORD - South Range's baseball team is becoming a pretty big deal in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier.
Led by Cory Deal's game-tying RBI triple in the seventh inning, the Raiders pulled off a thrilling 3-2 victory over Columbiana on Thursday to remain in a tie for first place in the league.
Down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, the Raiders (13-7, 10-1 in the ITCL upper tier) knew if they had any chance at staying in the race that a few big hits off Columbiana ace Hank Schlueter were needed.
"I knew we needed something to happen," Deal said. "If we didn't come out of here with a 'W' (against Columbiana) it was going to be hard to go for the league title."
Deal's triple scored Billy Goodall, who reached on a one-out single. With Deal at the third, the Clippers intentionally walked the next two batters. Dan Macinga drew a bases-loaded walk to end the game.
"Hank Schlueter is fantastic," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "He can really deal and he's a very good pitcher. We had to be patient and take advantage of our opportunities. That was a huge hit by Deal."
The Raiders are tied for the lead with Springfield. The Tigers have a pair of games with Columbiana (7-12, 7-5) next week to close out the slate. South Range has a pair with second-place Crestview and another with East Palestine left.
"When we came off the field in between innings in the seventh, I told them this was it," Hanek said. "This is the league right here."
Hanek said he was unsure if his team was going to be in this position at the beginning of the season since the Raiders were only returning two seniors - Andy Lacefield and Tom Delullo. Delullo was even out sick for Thursday's game.
"It hurt us not having him in the lineup," Hanek said. "He usually bats fourth and is a big bat, but the other kids picked it up today."
Columbiana took the lead in the top of the seventh on an RBI double by Bryce Franken and an RBI single by Steve Slater. South Range's first run came in the fourth after Zack Thorpe scored on a throwing error on a ball hit by Macinga.
"It starts on the mound for us," Columbiana coach Scott Knox said. "We've got a four-year starter and a guy who pitched in the state final four. (Schlueter) has loads of experience and that's how he pitched tonight. He did everything he needed to do to give us a chance to win."
Schlueter, who had three strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings of work, was matched by Lacefield who tallied eight strikeouts in his complete game effort.
The windy, wet and cold conditions made things adventurous for the players in the field, but both teams were able to manage big defensively plays when they needed it.
"The weather conditions were a factor today," Deal said. "The ball gets really slippery when it's like this."
Already out of the league picture, Columbiana is itching to find out who it will go up against in the tournament. The Div. III district draw is Sunday.
"South Range is going to be one of the better teams in the draw, but you've also got Ursuline, Girard and Crestview," Knox said. "If we can get our pitchers to throw well and we can get timely hits, we'll be able to compete in this tournament."
The Clippers are back in action today at Salem.
South Range hosts Crestview on Monday.
COLUMBIANA: 000 000 2 - 2-6-4
SOUTH RANGE: 000 100 2 - 3-7-3
WP - Andy Lacefield (4-1, CG, 8K, 3BB). LP - Hank Schlueter (6 1/3IP, 3K, 3BB). 2B - Deal (SR), Franken (COL), Slater (COL). 3B - Deal (SR).