GREENFORD-The South Range softball team had ample opportunity to lose its composure in Tuesday's district title rematch with Ursuline.
However, each time they looked ready to fall apart, the Raiders steeled themselves and refused to crack.
In a nail-biting finish, South Range got free of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh to emerge with a 5-4 win over the Irish in the Lisbon Div. III district title game at South Range High School.
"We made a lot of mistakes tonight, but we showed the heart of a champion," South Range coach Don Feren said. "Every time we had a bad situation, heads didn't go down. We've done it all year."
The Raiders move on to face Independence in a regional semifinal at 5 p.m. on May 29 at Massillon Washington High School. It is the Raiders third district title in the last five years and first since 2011. It was the second straight year that South Range and Ursuline met up in a district final. Last year, the Irish won 2-1 in nine innings.
"We had some unfinished business with Ursuline," South Range senior Stevie Taylor said. "Beating them this year for the district title makes it that much sweeter."
Like last year's game, Tuesday's contest was not for the faint of heart.
South Range-which had already blown a 3-0 lead through four innings-arrived in the bottom of the seventh up 5-3, thanks to a two-out, two-run single in the fifth by freshman second baseman Lydia Baird.
"There was a lot of pressure, but I tried to act like it was just me and the pitcher," Baird said. "I got a strike on the first pitch and just went with it to right field."
After giving up back-to-back singles to start the seventh, South Range freshman pitcher Caragyn Yanek composed herself and got a pair of strikeouts, bringing Ursuline's number-three hitter Macey Gunther to the plate with two outs and runners and first and second.
Gunther hit a hard shot to Stevie Taylor at short. Taylor knocked the ball down and made split-second decision to shovel to third for a force out. However, the toss sailed over Taylor Helon's head allowing a run to score and moving runners up to second and third.
"I was so upset with myself," Taylor said. "I wanted the ball hit to me, and I had a chance to end the game."
With the Raiders and their fans stunned, Yanek intentionally walked cleanup hitter Makayla Shore to load the bases, bringing up Stephanie Ohalek, who had singled and walked previously. With the count 1-and-2 Ohalek hit a foul popup behind the plate that Sarah Moretti squeezed into her glove, giving the Raiders their district title.
"I felt complete relief watching the ball go into Sarah's glove," Taylor said. "I was so excited, I couldn't believe we held on."
The Raider bats came out ready against Ursuline pitcher Makayla Shore. The junior righthander held South Range to one run in last year's district final, but the Raiders spent all week studying her pitches and jumped to a 3-0 lead after four innings.
Jessica Skirpac got the Raiders going with a two-run single in the third. Codi Taylor singled and came around on a throwing error in the fourth.
"We were ready for her (Shore) tonight," Feren said. "We did a great job of staying disciplined and making her throw strikes."
Ahead by three entering the fifth, the Raiders gave it all back. A throwing error by Caragyn Yanek with two outs opened the door to three unearned Ursuline runs. Taylor also had a throwing error, while Yanek uncorked two wild pitches. With the game tied at three and two runners on, Yanek escaped when she got Gunther to softly fly out to left.
""I was really nervous pitching out there today, and just went through a bad stretch in the fifth," Yanek said. "My teammates all had my back and were able to help me through it."
After throwing nine innings in Monday's district semifinal against Newton Falls, Yanek came up huge again for the Raiders, holding down an Ursuline lineup that returned eight starters from last year's district champion.
"We were able to split game up among our pitchers all year," Feren said. "Caragyn wanted the ball today no question."
Taylor may have blundered at times, but she came up with the defensive play of the night in the third inning, going into the outfield grass to snare a liner by Shore, then heaving a laser to first to double off Gunther and end the inning.
"That's why she's the best softball player in the area," Feren said. "She helps us in so many ways."
Technically the Raiders are the Lisbon district champions, but the semifnals and final were both played at South Range High School due to the Div. IV tournament being held at the Lisbon softball complex.
"We've hosted the district in year's past," Feren said. "We gave it up to Lisbon this year because of the paperwork and offered them the use of our facilities which are some of the best in the area."
SR-Caragyn Yanek, wp, (7IP, 4K, 2BB) and Sarah Moretti.
UR-Makayla Shore, lp, (6IP, 7K, 4BB) and Dana Creatore.