Ursuline High School's opponent in today's Division III state semifinal game, Wheelersburg, isn't used to losing.
Ace pitcher Derek Moors has never felt it.
The Pirates are making their fourth-straight trip to state and fifth in the last six seasons.
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
Ursuline pitcher Sam Donko delivers a pitch during a recent game. Donko will take the mound today for the Fighting Irish in a Division?III?semifinal against Wheelersburg.
"They have an amazing tradition," said Irish coach Sean Durkin. "But so do we."
This is Ursuline's seventh trip to state. It has two runner-up finishes and two state titles (1998 and 2000).
Moore, a senior who is narrowing his college choice down between Shawnee State, Ohio Dominican and Ohio University, is 34-0 as a three-year starter and has 124 strikeouts in 82 innings, this year. With a 1.02 ERA, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander has a fastball that reaches the upper-80's.
"They have a very good No. 1," Durkin said. "But so do we."
Sam Donko, an Iowa Western recruit, has 91 strikeouts in 55 innings for his senior campaign. He's 9-1 with a 1.55 ERA.
"I just love it," Donko said. "Baseball has always been a game to me. I like what comes from it. I'm always relaxed out there and even though this is the biggest game of my life, I feel like I'm pitching my best."
Durkin predicts a pitchers' duel and Donko is ready. On April 9, he battled with Cardinal Mooney ace Kane Durkin in a 1-0 win at Cene Park.
"That was a pretty good game on both ends, so I've been there," Donko said. "I have such high respect for (Moore). But, you're not going to go undefeated in high school if you don't have run support."
Wheelersburg (27-4) boasts six seniors - the first class to advance to state all four years in program history. Junior catcher Dylan Miller leads with a .425 batting average. Garrett Carmichael, Zach Brown and Moore each have three home runs. They average more than seven runs a game, including a 24-0 win over South Webster on April 3.
Bishop Watterson, Greenup County, Beechwood and Ashland Blazer are the only losses for the Pirates.
Ursuline averages six runs per game and its highest output came on April 18 with an 18-3 win over South Range.
Without looking too far ahead for Saturday's state championship game, which places the winner of this game against the winner of Bloom-Carroll and Hamilton Badin, the No. 2 pitchers aren't slouches.
Wade Martin, Wheelersburg's everyday third baseman, was just two outs away from a perfect game in last year's state title game - as a freshman. The Irish's Dion Felger can't claim that notoriety, yet, but he's impressed in his junior year.
Felger has a 5-0 record and 40 strikeouts in six starts and three relief appearances, though he normally plays first base.
"My big focus was pitching," he said. "It was about hitting my spots. I was doing what I wanted to early in the season."
In Ursuline's 4-1 win over Orrville in the regional final, Felger tossed a four-hitter with five strikeouts.
"He's a good pitcher," Donko said. "I knew he was capable of it, if he got an opportunity I knew he'd take advantage of it."
Ursuline junior Nick Revak has a 4-0 pitching record, Joel Hake hasn't allowed a run in six appearances and Harrison Finelli, last year's No. 2 pitcher, is 6-0.
"They've all pitched that way all year," Durkin said. "Going into the tournament, we weren't sure which guy we were going to use because we have four legitimate No. 2 pitchers. They're all quality pitchers. That's why our record is what it is. We trotted out a great pitcher every day."
Felger pitched a lot over the summer with Toyota of Warren in Cene's Little B league. This summer, he'll play in Big B with Kuboff and Associates."
"He's flourished," Durkin said. "He's done wonderful things when we hand him the ball. Dion is a gamer kind of kid who loves those big situations."
Now, Ursuline just needs to find a catcher.
Senior Matt Lacko is suffering through a meniscus tear that will require surgery. He did play in the regional final and started a rally in the second and sixth innings. Freshman Drew Potesta has caught a few games this season.
"They're not much different back there, though," Donko said. "But I know the way Lacko works. I'm still comfortable with either."