MASSILLON - It took Ursuline pitcher Sam Donko a whole year to get back at LaGrange Keystone.
Last year in a Division III regional semifinal, Donko found himself on the short end of a 5-0 decision to the Wildcats.
This year in the rematch, he dominated for nine innings to outlast his counterpart Brandyn Sittinger in a 3-2 victory.
Now Ursuline will face Grand Valley (29-1) at 5 p.m. today for the right to go to the state tournament.
"He's a bulldog - that's the way he's been for us all season," Ursuline coach Sean Durkin said. "I was actually thinking of taking him out after eight innings, but the look on his face told me I would probably have a fight on my hands."
Donko had good reason to want to go back out for the ninth.
In the eighth, he gave up a booming leadoff home run to Marcus Hunter. The blast came minutes after Ursuline took its first lead when Ryan Strollo roped a triple to the right-field wall to score Ralph Naples.
Naples pinch ran for Harrison Finelli, who legged out a one-out infield single to start the rally.
"I can't get mad about that home run - he got all of it," Donko said. "I know that if I got out of the inning, my team would get another run, and thankfully I got another chance to close out the game."
Donko finished with 14 strikeouts, but almost didn't get the chance to finish the game in the third when he allowed a Gunter double, then hit Troy Piazza. He then loaded the bases by issuing his only walk of the game to Tyler Young.
With only one out in the inning, Donko made Sittinger foul out to first base, and struck out the last two batters.
"He was good last year, and you can tell he got stronger and smarter this year," Keystone coach Mark Clement said. "We had our chances, but weren't very selective at the plate, and that hurt us."
That approach hurt the Wildcats because Donko was dealing a lot of sliders and curveballs early in the game. He did well, but began to really shift his game in gear when he went to primarily a fastball.
From the fourth inning on, he retired 17 out of the last 19 batters to finish the game.
"He has always got stronger as the game went on," Durkin said. "The defense let him down a bit at times, but he battled through it, and guys redeemed themselves at the plate, too. It was a team effort today."
Keystone (21-9) starter Sittinger matched Donko's effort. Through eight innings, he struck out 13 batters.
"This was a great pitching matchup featuring two outstanding pitchers," Durkin said. "It's a shame one of them had to lose."
Keystone got on the board in the second when Caleb Schillace grounded a double down the left-field line, but the ball was misplayed by Tannor Berry, who allowed Schillace to get to third. Shortstop Strollo then misplayed a Kendle Stiner grounder that allowed the run to score.
Ursuline (20-5) scored its first run when Anthony Rohan singled in Paul Pegues from first in the third inning. Rohan actually blasted a ball to the right-field wall, but injured himself on the way to first, where he was held. He was taken out of the game.
Now, the Irish will focus on Grand Valley.
"We've had a chance to watch them," Durkin said. "They're not 29-1 for no reason."
Donko actually faced the Mustangs in his freshman year, and dropped a close decision.