Leetonia keeps it close vs. Southern

SALINEVILLE – When the Southern Local baseball team couldn’t get the bats working against Leetonia in the Division IV sectional opener on Friday, the Indians put their defense to work.

After RBI singles in the first inning from Domanick Michael and Justin Cameron, the eighth-seeded Indians stopped the 11th-seeded Bears with strong defense and ended the Bears’ season early with a 2-1 victory at the Salineville Baseball Complex.

“Our fielding was excellent,” Southern senior first baseman Caleb Gotschall said. “It was probably one of our best performances this year.”

The Indians improve to 11-11, tying the school record for most wins in a season, and move on to today’s Division IV sectional final against second-seeded Jackson-Milton due in part to Michael’s RBI single and six strikeouts on the mound.

“Our defense backed me up well tonight,” Michael said. “We struggled at the plate, but we can do better than that.”

The defense stopped the Bears as Michael’s throw to first to get Brady Shepard of Leetonia out in the second inning prevented runs for the Bears, and impressed senior Jake Davis, along with catcher Jesse McClurg’s throw to second in the sixth inning to tag out Joe Hall.

“As a freshman, he’s done really well for us,” Davis said. “Our defense backed him up really good, we’re just really proud of him.”

The 11th win was just one of the goals for the young Indians, and coach Jason Glover also saw two more goals accomplished on Friday.

“All season, the goals were to be at .500,” Glover said. “The second was to get a playoff home game, and the third to win a playoff game at home. So we were able to accomplish them.”

The goals also paid off for Gotschall and Davis, who played their final varsity baseball game at Salineville Baseball Complex, and Gotschall was happy to end his Southern career with a win.

“It’s been nice to be able to build the program back up,” Gotschall said. “It’s nice to be able to finish my season with these guys and tie the school record for the wins.”

Davis enjoyed working with the team, and hopes to see the underclassmen again after his time with the U.S. Army, which he will enter this fall.

“It’s been an honor to watch these guys grow and be able to play with them,” Davis said. “With me going off to the service for a couple years, the first thing I would like to do is get back up here and see how they’re doing.”

The Bears also turned to defense when their offense struggled as threw out three Indians trying to steal. Even though Joe Suggett scored the Bears’ only run on a wild pitch, the Southern Local defense was too much, frustrating coach Jimi Green.

“(Isaac) Stecker was pitching well tonight,” Green said. “He caught three stealing tonight, and he still wound up with the loss.”

The Bears, meanwhile, look to brighter times in the future as slowly but surely, more seniors will step up as senior James Shea exits for the University of Akron.

“We’re definitely a young team,” Shea said. “I’m the only senior, and there’s a junior after that, but there are more players coming up and there’s a lot of potential.”

Leetonia finished the season at 2-13.

“We’re a very young team. We had just one senior this year,” Greene said. “Next year, though, we’ll have more seniors so the future’s looking bright.”

Game notes

The Division IV sectional final between the Indians and Bluejays start at 1 p.m. today at Jackson-Milton High School.

Seniors Caleb Gotschall and Jake Davis were honored during pre-game festivities.

Today’s sectional final will be the first game this season between Southern and Jackson-Milton after Southern’s move to the Inter-Tri County League upper tier.

“We’ve played them before last few years. We haven’t yet this season since we’ve moved up, so it’s going to be interesting how we have grown over the last couple years,” Glover said.

L: 0-0-0-0-0-0-1-1-4-1

S: 2-0-0-0-0-0-x-2-4-1

L-Isaac Stecker, lp (6IP, 1K, 1BB) and Tanner Tullis.

S-Domanick Michael, wp (7IP, 6K, 2BB) and Jesse McClurg.