GREENFORD-South Range catcher Ryan Miller anxiously waited all day for a shot at Springfield and he was presented with a golden opportunity.
With the Raiders and Tigers deadlocked at 1-1 -and first place in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier at stake-Miller watched from the on deck circle Monday as Springfield coach Matt Weymer ordered an intentional walk to Bill Goodall with a runner at second and two out in the bottom of the third inning.
He took it as a personal challenge.
"I'll be honest, them passing on Bill to get to me got under my skin a little bit," Miller said. "It lit a fire in me to go up to the plate and get a hit."
Miller made the Tigers pay, smacking an RBI double to left which provided the winning margin in a 3-1 Raider victory at South Range High School.
The win gives the Raiders (15-3, 10-0) sole possession of first place in the ITCL upper tier. Springfield-ranked second in the Division III state coaches poll-falls to 17-2 overall and 9-1 in the ITCL upper tier. South Range will have a chance to put a stranglehold on the conference when it visits Springfield today.
"All during school today I couldn't get my mind off tonight's game," Miller said. "It was what we've been building toward for a while. We still have one more game against these guys so we have to come out just as focused tomorrow."
Miller went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, providing the key blow with clutch his third inning double
With the score tied 1-1, Zach Thorpe stood at second base with two outs and Bill Goodall-who entered the game hitting .655 with 43 RBIs-coming to the plate. Scoring opportunities figured to be at a premium and Weymer did not want South Range's best hitter beating him, choosing instead to go after Miller-who was hitting a comparatively modest .320.
"I'll take full responsibility for that call," Weymer said. "I've had nightmares about Bill Goodall for the past three years and it was just too risky pitching to him with a runner in scoring position."
"I was just looking for something over the plate that I could hit," Miller said. "I got it and was able to drive the ball,"
The run was enough for South Range pitcher Tyler Baird, who shut the Tigers down over seven innings, striking out 11 and walking just one.
"It started with great fastball command for me, Baird said. "Once I got ahead in the count I was able to use my changeup. My curveball also really came around late."
Though they struggled most of the night, the Tigers had two golden opportunities early against Baird.
Hunter Snyder led off the game with a double and scored when Dalton Donachie reached an a fielding error. Ryan Kohler followed with a single, giving the Tigers two on with nobody out. However, Baird composed himself and got out of the inning without further damage. He also skated out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the third.
"Tyler showed great heart and composure tonight," South Range coach Jim Hanek said. "He had some situations where they could've broke it open but he didn't give in."
Baird cruised home after the third as the Tigers didn't get a runner past first base the rest of the night. Snyder led the Tigers with a double, a single and a walk.
"I haven't seen too many high school pitchers with that kind of changeup," Weymer said. "He commanded all three of his pitches and kept us off balance. As a former pitcher I was really impressed."
South Range tied the game in the bottom of the first on an RBI groundout by Miller and added an insurance run in the fourth on an RBI single by Josh Fromel. Springfield starter James Hillyer entered the game having not allowed a run since April 6 against Austintown Fitch, but could not match Baird.
"We just had to hang in there against him (Hillyer)," Hanek said. "Fortunately, we were able to get some pitches over the plate and cash in."
The teams won't have much time to catch their breath before meeting again today at Springfield.
"If we want to win the league we have to have tomorrow's game," Weymer said. "There is no way South Range is losing twice."
South Range came out wearing special camouflage uniforms for the big game.
"We won so we might have to bring them back tomorrow," Hanek said.
The Raiders have now won 31 straight league games. Their last loss was April 17, 2012, ironically against Springfield.
South Range has outscored ITCL opponents, 97-15, this year. Springfield has outscored its conference foes, 108-19.
SR-Tyler Baird, wp, (7IP, 11K, 1BB) and Ryan Miller.
SP-James Hillyer, lp, (6IP, 8K, 4BB) and Hunter Snyder.