STRUTHERS - The Ursuline Irish will be headed to the Division III regional semifinals in Massillon next week, as they defeated the South Range Raiders, 11-2, at Bob Cene Park Thursday night.
Raiders' shortstop Billy Goodall tried to set the tone early as he hit a Vinnie Lucente fastball over the head of right fielder Zach Patton for an inside the park home run in the first inning. The Raiders, however, weren't able to carry the early momentum to the field.
The Irish got two runners on in the second inning with no outs, but a miscue on a sacrifice bunt attempt resulted in second baseman Gianni Quattro to get picked off at first. After Zach Patton flied out to right, the Raider's defense broke down, committing four errors with two outs. Six unearned runs crossed the plate for Ursuline.
Three runs would ultimately be all Lucente would need, as struck out five and allowed only three hits, all to Goodall.
"I've got a couple blisters on my fingers after that one, but it's alright," said Lucente about the excessive amount of sliders he threw. "I hit a kid with it too, but it's cool. It's always been one of my go-tos, but I've never really thrown it as much, (but) today I felt confident with it. Before the game in the bullpen it was working."
South Range coach Jim Hanek noticed Lucente's slider as well, and believes it was the pitch that gave his team the most difficulty.
"Today, we didn't get off to a fast start with the bats, other than Billy's (Goodall) home run," Hanek said. "Lucente was really able to settle in and I thought he threw a phenomenal game. His slider was on, it was nice. It really kept our hitters off balance. I think that was the pitch we struggled with the most."
Multiple RBI games by seniors Dion Felger, who had three, Michael Montalbano, who hit a two run triple in the second inning, and Patton, who had a pair, powered the Irish into position to end the game in the fifth inning, up by 10 runs.
Standing in the way though was Goodall, who slapped a two-out RBI single into left field, completing his 3-for-3, two RBI game.
"We were trying to secretly intentionally walk him and he reached out there and blasted it. I should have just hit him. I already hit two kids, (but) I didn't want to get tossed," Lucente said with a chuckle.
Although the Irish travel to regionals with an average 10-10 record, they seem to be in a groove as of late. Coach Sean Durkin attributes some of their postseason run on the preparation they received from playing a healthy dose of quality competition in the regular season.
"We were probably like 3-7 against Division I teams," Durkin said. "We played them all pretty close. We played against some quality pitchers, and quality programs. We played two great programs today and yesterday in Springfield and South Range. They're both extremely well coached and have great kids, but we weren't overwhelmed by their pitching simply because we've seen a lot of good ones throughout the year. Not that they didn't do a good job, they just weren't overwhelming to us and I think a lot of that has to do with our schedule."
The Irish, who lost a few key seniors from last season, have five seniors this year. Felger believes the leadership from his class, along with taking advantage of opportunities, was a major factor for the success of both Thursday's win and the team's season.
(Today was) a great game." he said. "We came through with the bats, I'm really happy with that. We got a little luck, some clutch hits and took advantage of their mistakes. Starting off brand new with a whole new team, being a senior, it's just (about) taking leadership. I think all of the seniors have done a great job of taking leadership, and it's paid off."
Ursuline will continue its run to state next Thursday against Gilmore Academy at Massillon High School at 2 p.m.