STRUTHERS-As the tournament progresses, the margin for error decreases, which South Range showed in its 3-0 win over Girard in Division III district semifinal action at Cene Park on Tuesday.
Senior right-hander Cory Deal pitched a complete game while the Raider defense played clean error-free baseball to advance.
Girard's pitching and defense also proved sturdy, but the Indians made a few small mistakes that South Range pounced on for one run in the fourth and two in the fifth. The second-seeded Raiders move on to play top-seeded Youngstown Ursuline in the district final at 6 p.m. today at Cene Park.
"Our offense started slowly, so we knew we couldn't give Girard anything extra in the field," Deal said. "I was able to get ahead in the count, and our defense did a great job at running balls down. It was a terrific team defensive game. That was the difference tonight."
"In a big outfield, it's nice to have outfielders that can run," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "They (Girard) hit some balls hard into the gaps tonight but we were able to run everything down. Bill Goodall in particular made some nice plays in center field."
For the first three innings, Deal and Girard starter Kyle Harris matched each other pitch for pitch, with neither team mounting a threat.
The Raider took the lead in the fourth after Dan Macinga was hit by a pitch, moved up on a single by Ross Stoffer, and scored on an RBI single by Ryan Miller.
In the fifth, Deal led off with a single and was bunted to second by Greg Dunham. After a walk to Zach Thorpe, Macinga came up and blistered a grounder to short that Evan Standohar couldn't handle. The ball kicked into short left field, bringing home Deal to make it 2-0. Goodall followed with a hard grounder to the right side that got past second baseman Jim Standohar, scoring Thorpe to make it 3-0.
"I told our guys to try and hit the ball hard on the ground and good things would happen," Hanek said. "We've started out slow at times on offense this year, but tonight we did a great job weathering the storm. Eventually we got some hits to fall in for us."
"Overall we played a pretty nice game defensively," Girard coach Aaron Alejars said. "We just made a couple of mistakes in the fifth that cost us. When you play good teams those are the plays you have to make to advance."
The three runs were more than enough for Deal, who improved to 8-0 on the year. The only time the Indians had multiple runners on base came in the seventh when Zach Cochran and Christian Bello hit back-to-back singles with two outs to put a brief scare into the Raiders. However, after a brief visit by Hanek, Deal got Austin DeGregory to ground out and end the game. The Indians did not have a runner reach third the whole game.
"Cory's been delivering for us all year," Hanek said. "Last year our pitching was a little shaky, but he's been a big part of why it's a strength this year. He kept us in it until our bats woke up."
"Deal made it very tough on us tonight," Alejars said. "We came in wanting to hit some balls hard on the ground but we kept getting under everything and with how well their outfield tracked everything down that wasn't going to be successful."
Girard finishes its season at 11-18.
With the Indians behind them, South Range will now focus on dethroning the defending district champion Irish.
Ursuline (20-2) beat Campbell 14-3 in five innings in the other semifinal. The Irish lost in the regional final a year ago.
"We'll be ready," Hanek said. "If we play like we have all season, anything can happen in one game."
G-Kyle Harris, lp, (6IP, 3BB, 4K) and Zane Chase.
SR-Cory Deal, wp, (7IP, 1BB, 3K) and Ryan Miller.