STRUTHERS - There wasn't much to criticize the Ursuline baseball team for in a near-perfect performance in a Division III district final, and considering their star pitcher, Sam Donko, dominated both on the mound and at the plate, he certainly wasn't someone to pick on, right?
Well, not exactly.
Donko might have been the catalyst of the Fighting Irish's 11-1, five-inning victory over South Range at Bob Cene Park on Wednesday, but he was still the butt of a few jokes afterward.
The senior crushed a ball to deep left field to leadoff the third inning and watched as it sailed toward the fence. Unfortunately for Donko, his blast bounced high off the fence and not over it, so Donko hastily tried to turn on the jets. One problem - he missed first base during his dash down the line.
"I thought I got it," said Donko, who assumed his booming fly ball was a home run. "So I pimped it."
Donko's "pimp" walk down the first-base line didn't slow top-seeded Ursuline (22-2), which plays LaGrange Keystone in the regional semifinal at 2 p.m. on May 30 at Massillon Washington High School. In fact, the Irish struck for five runs after his shot to left and broke open a 3-0 ball game in the third. The hard-throwing Donko allowed just one run on five hits while striking out four and walking one. He also went 3 for 4 with a double and three runs scored. Harry Finelli (3 for 3 with a triple, four runs and two RBIs) helped power an Ursuline offense that collected 15 hits against the Raiders (22-6).
A team known for its pitching made sure people recognized its offense.
"Our pitching has been what we relied upon all year - it's been terrific," Irish coach Sean Durkin said. "But this is as well as we've swung the bat all year. A little bit unexpected, but today things kind of just fell together, and hopefully we can build on that."
Ursuline jumped on South Range in the first inning, recording six hits, including a two-run triple by Finelli, and three total runs. The big third inning blew things open as the Irish added five more hits and took advantage of two walks. Dion Felger and Tannor Berry each provided two-run singles.
Seven of Ursuline's nine batters had hits, and six registered multiple hits.
"We've been practicing pretty hard," said Donko of the Irish's offensive success. "We really want to go to Columbus this year. For the seniors, this is our last chance. We've got six starting seniors, and they all want to get back (to regionals). We've been in this situation twice. When we go to regionals, we lose. It's heartbreaking, so we really want to go to state this year."
The third district title in as many years resulted in a difficult end for the second-seeded Raiders, who lost to the Irish during the regular season, 18-3. South Range otherwise dominated most opponents, including the Inter Tri-County League, Upper Tier, finishing 14-0. The Raiders did a decent job making contact against Donko (three of his four strikeouts came in the first inning), but the Irish didn't commit an error, and Donko never allowed more than one hit in an inning to squash any chance at a rally.
"We hit the ball today much better than we did during the regular season," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "We had an idea what we were up against. They came out, they hit the ball around, and they hit it hard. Three runs in the first and then they followed it with five, and knowing who you're going up against on the mound, it's a pretty daunting task at that point."
Bill Goodall led the Raiders with two hits, including a triple, and a run scored.