Ursuline heading to state

MASSILLON – Six years isn’t a long time span between appearances in a high school state tournament for most athletic teams.

For Ursuline Fighting Irish coach Sean Durkin, it seemed like an eternity. Well, maybe not that long, but for a program that’s accustomed to deep tournament runs, six years can make a coach grow impatient.

The wait ended Friday at Ducky Schroeder Field when the Irish rode the strong pitching of junior Dion Felger to a 4-1 win over the Orrville Red Riders in a Division III regional final.

“It’s been a long time,” Durkin said. “This will be the first trip down there (to Columbus for state) for these seniors. This is where they wanted to be. They’ve finally gotten to that point. It will be a great ride.”

Ursuline (24-2) will meet Wheelersburg in the state semifinals Thursday at 10 a.m. at Huntington Bank Stadium.

Felger looked in control from the start, although he said it wasn’t until he got a handle on his changeup in the third inning before he settled into a groove. After allowing four base runners in the first two innings, Felger retired 11 straight batters before giving up a one-out double to Stuart Schley in the sixth.

“Early, location was missing,” Felger said. “Third inning I found my tempo. I started hitting my locations and hitting my spots and it carried me.”

Felger’s strong outing came with ace Sam Donko playing first base after pitching the distance a day earlier in a semifinal win over LaGrange Keystone. Felger allowed just four hits, struck out five and didn’t issue a walk.

“He did terrific,” Durkin said. “I believe he threw only 81 pitches. He was extremely efficient. We had a lot of different ways we could have gone today. We had guys hitting loose pretty much every inning.

“Dion took the bull by the horns. After he settled down, he was spot on.”

Red Riders starting pitcher Wes Stauffer didn’t last long. He didn’t allow a hit in the first inning, but the Irish put three batters on base on an error, a fielder’s choice and a hit batsman.

Stauffer survived that threat without allowing a run, but the Irish sent nine batters to the plate in a three-run second. Stauffer was replaced by Schley after giving up a two-run double to Anthony Rohan with two outs. Rohan scored on a single by Ryan Strollo.

Rohan had two doubles and drove in three runs. He solved Stauffer quickly after reaching on an error leading off in the bottom of the first.

“I tried not to think,” Rohan said. “Just stay short to the ball, get inside of it and get some extension.”

The Red Riders (16-14) scored in the sixth when a throwing error by Donko allowed Schley to score after his double. Felger retired the final four batters.

“The changeup has always been in and out,” Felger said. “Some games I really have it, and today I really had it. Coach kept on calling it, and it kept on working.”

The win made up for a loss to Grand Valley in the regional final last season. The next step is winning two games in Columbus.

“It’s great to accomplish this, but we had one goal at the beginning of the season – state championship,” Irish catcher Matt Lacko said. “We still have two games to win.”