STRUTHERS - With both aces on the mound, the rematch of last year's district semifinal game between South Range and Girard set up to be a true pitcher's duel. It certainly did not disappoint.
Backed by a dominating performance by pitcher Cory Deal, the South Range Raiders pulled out a 3-0 win over Girard in a Division III district semifinal, avenging their 10-0 loss to the Indians last season.
"He's (Deal) been there for us all year," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "One of the main reasons we were so successful throughout the season."
Deal was able to limit his pitches by throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters early in counts.
"I was always getting ahead with first pitch fastball and mixing in curveball," Deal said. "That's nice because when you get ahead you can start to get a feel for it."
From the other side of the plate, the Raiders' hitters worked deep into counts against Indians pitcher Kyle Harris, seeing a lot of pitches early in the game. Harris faced only 10 batters through the first three innings and did not allow a hit until the fourth.
In that fourth inning, following a leadoff hit-by-pitch, Ross Stoffer and Ryan Miller hit back-to-back singles up the middle. Miller drove in Dan Macinga giving the Raiders a 1-0 lead. That run would be the only earned run Harris gave up in the game.
With two on and one out in the bottom of the fifth, the Indians committed back-to-back errors giving up a run on each play. However, the defense limited its damage in the inning with a six-four-three double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
"He was a bulldog," Girard coach Aaron Alejars said about Harris' performance. "He kept pitching and kept us in the game. He definitely gave us an opportunity to win."
The difference in the game offensively was the Raiders ability to hit the ball hard and on the ground with runners on base.
"Our offensive approach, what bit us defensively, was to hit the ball on the ground because the ground is just screaming for rain," Alejars said.
Girard's offensive strategy was foiled by Deal's ability to induce the flyball. The Indians flew out 13 times, bunted for an out three times, and struck out three times.
"When your pitcher throws as well as Cory did today and your defense is working, it keeps you in the game," Hanek said. "You can weather the storm so to speak. You're gonna get those chances and we took advantage."
Although the season ended for the Indians, their expectations remain high. Girard is a young team and will lose just two seniors, outfielder Tyler Alejars and first baseman Nick Krajcirik. Aaron Alejars expects nothing less than to get back to the district semifinals next season, just as they have three of the last five seasons.
"We were right here last year and the goal is to get right back," Aaron Alejars said. "We have to earn it and work our butts off, but those are the expectations with a lot of guys coming back."
The Raiders' season record improves to 22-5. They will play in the district finals game tonight against Ursuline at Cene Park. The favored Irish finished the season as the top seed in the district. However, this does not deter the second-seeded Raiders' confidence.
"We're ready," Hanek said. "It's district finals and anything can happen. It's a game for a bus trip to Massillon"