Boardman plays for berth in regional today

STRUTHERS — Most of the Boardman baseball team was lined up on the first-base line ready to shake hands within seconds after the conclusion of its 12-2 victory over Akron Ellet in a Division I Struthers District semifinal.

There was no need to celebrate. Reaching the district final isn’t the objective.

“The bigger goal is the district championship (today),” Boardman coach Joe Gabriel said. “It’s been a while since Boardman has been to a regional, so they’re pretty excited about playing for that.”

That celebration might be a little bigger, considering it’s 15 years in the making.

The Spartans (16-13) last won a district title in 2002, and after dismantling Ellet in six innings Thursday, third-seeded Boardman plays fourth-seeded Walsh Jesuit at 5 p.m. today with a chance to end that drought. The Cavaliers beat No. 1 seed Kent Roosevelt, 15-5, in five innings Thursday.

“Get ready for the next one,” said sophomore Mike Fetsko of what the team’s mentality was after the victory over the Orangemen. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We gotta win.”

Fetsko is a big reason the Spartans are in this position.

Boardman led 2-0 until Jacob Kline belted a two-run homer in the fifth inning. He was the first batter relief pitcher Jarod Wilson faced, and he pulled a high pitch down the left-field line and over the fence. It was a momentum-swinging hit for Ellet, but the Spartans didn’t stay down for long.

They scored four times in the bottom half of the fifth to take a 6-2 edge, with Fetsko capping the rally with a two-out, two-run double to left-center field.

“It was important (to bounce back),” Fetsko said. “It was good that we took (the momentum) back. We scored four right after that, so I think that was pretty clutch of us.”

Wilson responded as well, putting together a quick top half of of the sixth to put the Spartans back at the plate. After a strikeout to start the inning, three walks loaded the bases, and Boardman put the game away with three straight singles. Fetsko, who finished 2-for-3 with two doubles, three RBIs, a walk and a run scored, added another RBI double, and Travis Harvey triggered the 10-run rule with a run-scoring single up the middle.

Boardman tallied 11 hits, including three doubles, and the offense may be coming around at the right time.

“We just started swinging the bats a lot better the last 10 games,” Gabriel said. “The beginning to middle of the season we were struggling with the bats. Our pitching and defense have been there all year, but we’ve been swinging the bats much better the last quarter of the season.”

Spartans starter Noah Land pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and two walks. He struck out six. Wilson, Boardman’s closer, got the win by pitching two innings and allowing one run on two hits, striking out one and walking none.

Gabriel, now in his fourth season leading the Spartans, didn’t make too big of a deal about the title drought, but his players are confident this is the year it comes to an end.

“It’s good for us to be back (in the district title game) and we have a great opportunity to win it,” Fetsko said. “With the team we’ve got, we can win it. There’s a lot of good players out here.”