Raiders aren’t backing down now
GREENFORD — For the first time in school history, the South Range baseball team will make an appearance in the state tournament and a coach’s promise that became an underlying motivation early in the season has now become a reality for the team.
“Coach promised us at the beginning of the year if we make it to state, he’ll buy us stirrups (uniform socks),” South Range junior Jared Barjeski said. “He texted us all the other day and said fellas we are getting stirrups. That was a text we were looking forward to for a long time.”
“He wouldn’t let us wear them early on, so I guess that gave us a little extra drive when he told us that,” South Range senior Brandon Youngs said.
A team that has made program history by winning its first district and regional titles this season has now reached the goal the Raiders wanted all season.
“They wanted to wear the high pants and I told them if you make the state championships you can wear whatever you want within reason,” South Range baseball coach Jim Hanek said.
Some players are now unsure if they want to wear the attire because of superstition and maintaining the path as they have during this postseason.
“Baseball’s a very superstitious sport,” Barjeski jokingly said. “I’m not sure if I am going to wear them or not.”
“I think we’re all eating the same thing and trying to keep it as same as possible,” South Range freshman Jake Gehring said. “We’ve been going all season without them so it’s something you don’t know if you want to change it up.”
This has been the talk as a relaxed and loose Raider baseball team is preparing for a meeting with Madeira in the Division III state semifinals at 10 a.m. Thursday at Huntington Park in Columbus.
“This is uncharted waters no question,” Hanek said. “It’s a thrill and the kids are excited to get down to Columbus to compete. This is a relaxed and tight knit team. They handle their business on and off the field.”
Madeira (21-6), which is a public school a half-an-hour northeast of Cincinnati, is making it’s third state appearance and first since 2011. The star of the 2011 Mustang team was Andrew Benintendi, who is now an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox.
“Madeira is an athletic team and they have some kids that can swing the bat,” Hanek said. “We’re excited to get down there on Thursday.”
Madeira’s leading batters this season has been Matt Megois, who has a .477 batting average and 38 RBIs.
South Range’s pitching has held its own against opposing batters as freshman Jake Gehring and junior Sam Brooks have been the one-two punch for the Raiders this season.
The pair have only allowed five runs this postseason.
Gehring will get the start for the Raiders on Thursday and Brooks would go if the the Raiders reach the state final on Saturday.
“It’s been something we’ve been doing all season,” Gehring said. “I throw game one and Sam goes game two. It’s been a mentality we’ve had all season you have to win today to get tommorow.”
This season, Gehring has 85 strikeouts total while posting a 0.96 ERA as the ace for the Raiders. He has 24 strikeouts this postseason.
“Jake is very mature for his age,” Hanek said. “He’s going to get the call because he’s been our ace and workhorse all season.”
At the plate for the Raiders, Ben Rivera is batting .371 and has 23 RBIs. Barjeski and Youngs are each hitting .337.
“We have to make sure that we play like we have been in the regionals,” Youngs said. “Those were two big games and we have to keep it up to get a win.”
Rivera collected four hits and two RBIs in the regional rounds for the Raiders.
Hanek’s keys to victory are stressing the fundementals of baseball.
“Making outs that need to be outs,” Hanek said. “You’ve got to be opportunistic and take advantage of your opponents mistakes. We have to be able to string hits together.”
This has been a humbling experience that all the players will remember.
“This absolutely surreal,” Barjeski said. “We thought this was going to be a rebuilding year and we got into the first practice saying wow we have some talent. Going into the tournament we wanted to win and this is just beyond comprehension.”
“Never winning a district championship to than winning a regional championship is unreal,” Youngs said. “This means the world to us.”
¯ South Range has had no problem taking down an ace pitcher this postseason as they scored four runs and had nine hits in the team’s regional semifinal win against state ranked Waynedale’s Manny Camacho. Camacho’s previous pitching performance was a 4-0 win over the second ranked team in the state, Loudonville where he only allowed two hits.
–Brandon Youngs who dealt with a leg injury last year in soccer is humbled by this experience as he was a part of South Range’s soccer team that went to the state finals in 2015.
“This means a lot to me to be able to finish out my senior year making it to the state final four,” Youngs said. “The fact that I was able to comeback when a lot of people didn’t even think I would be able to play my senior year. To play basketball and now make it so state in baseball is just an amazing feeling.”
–Madeira has one state baseball title in 1999.
— Hanek said the realization for the state tournament came when it hit regional play.
“When you get into the regionals it enters the back of your mind that you are two games away from state,” Hanek said. “Our mentality has been game by game and we always look at it as you got to win to see tommorow. For now our today is Thursday.”
–The team is heading to Columbus Thursday morning and plans to handle buisness as usual.
“We are going to the field Thursday morning to watch a game and see what it’s like,” Youngs said. “We are going to go in and just act like it’s any other game.”
–The winner of Thursday’s game will face the winner of sixth-ranked Coldwater and 12th-ranked Minford at 1 p.m. Saturday.