MASSILLON - For the potent South Range offense, a two-run deficit is normally not much cause for concern.
However, when the Raiders found themselves trailing by a pair of runs in Thursday's Division III regional semifinal, the game took on an ominous feeling-even though it was only the fourth inning.
Independence junior Victoria Sirna silenced the South Range bats like few others have this season as the Raiders were blanked 3-0 by the Blue Devils at Massillon High School.
"I thought whoever got a run on the board first was going to win the game," South Range coach Don Feren said. "We could never string anything together on offense."
The seventh-ranked Raiders conclude their season at 24-6. while Independence (16-4) advances to face Akron Manchester (19-8) in the regional final at noon Saturday.
South Range was kept off balance the entire afternoon by Sirna's mix of off-speed pitches, especially her knee-buckling changeup. The right-hander was never in serious trouble, scattering four hits, while striking out six and walking none.
"She (Sirna) had a nice changeup," South Range senior Stevie Taylor said. "We knew it was coming, but we could never do anything with it." "
Junior Jordan Youngs was the only Raider with any kind of success against Sirna, going 3-for-3 with three singles.
"We watched tape on her (Sirna) and we knew what to expect," Youngs said. "I think we were overthinking a little at the plate. I just tried to go up there and be aggressive."
The Raiders never got a runner past second base and had only a handful of hard-hit balls.. Their only scoring threat came in the second when Youngs reached second with one out.
"We hit a lot of balls off the hands tonight, Sirna put the ball wherever she wanted to" Feren said. "We've seen better pitchers this year and were able to make adjustments against them. We just didn't play a great game tonight."
South Range pitcher Caragyn Yanek breezed through the first three innings, but found trouble in the fourth. After a fielding error and a walk, Independence first baseman Abbi Tarski singled to make it 1-0. Clara Gorman followed with a hard liner off of Yanek's right ankle, loading the bases with nobody out.
Though in obvious pain, the freshman willed herself back to the mound and finished the game. She managed to escape the fourth with only one more run allowed.
"I couldn't move my foot at first, but I knew my team needed me to keep pitching," Yanek said. "I struggled the rest of the game with my stride. My ankle was really hurting. It's really purple now."
The two-run deficit felt a lot larger with how Sirna was rolling along. Larissa Adams supplied an additional run for the Blue Devils in the sixth with an RBI single.
"Nothing she did was much of a surprise, for whatever reason we just didn't play up to our level," Taylor said. "We could never get the bats going."
The Raiders return eight starters next year, with the one notable exception being Stevie Taylor, who led the team with 16 home runs, played stellar defense at shortstop and provided steady leadership. Feren knows it will be unusually difficult to replace her.
"Stevie put the team on her back the whole year," Feren said. "We aren't' here without her. You don't just automatically replace a leader like like that."
"This team has been like a big family," Taylor said. "It's going to be really tough not coming back next year."