Clippers slide past South Range

COLUMBIANA — Two areas of emphasis for the Columbiana baseball team entering the season were pitching depth and improved defense. Both were on display Thursday against South Range.

Senior pitcher Mitch Davidson effectively kept the South Range bats off-balance for seven innings while his teammates made a number of fine plays in the field behind him as the Clippers got past the Raiders 4-2 in a brisk, well-played game at Firestone Park.

The Clippers improve to 11-1 overall while the Raiders drop to 9-4.

“The guys behind me were really solid today,” Davidson said. “I think last year we had close to 90 errors so that was definitely the biggest thing we needed to work on, and today I think we showed that.”

Davidson prominently featured his curveball and needed just 85 pitches on his way to the complete game victory. He only struck out two but was content to let his defense work behind him. The Columbiana outfield tracked down nearly everything that came its way, while freshman shortstop Chase Franken prevented a South Range run when he snared a popup down the left field line after a long run.

“Mitch did a great job getting ahead of hitters and pitching to contact,” Columbiana coach Ryan Wolf said. “He wasn’t trying to strike everybody out, his ball had good movement and he fought back when he did get behind.”

While many teams are forced to cross their fingers and hope for the best with their pitching in non-conference games, the Clippers experienced no drop-off on the mound after back-to-back Inter-Tri County League White Division games against Lisbon.

“We have about eight guys that can throw, which gives us a lot of flexibility,” Davidson said. “It also helps keep all of our arms fresh.”

“The depth has helped us a lot,” Wolf said. “When you can have a guy like Mitch come out an throw an 85-pitch complete game today, that’s a huge boost because we have another game tomorrow and two on Saturday.”

In addition to his solid play at shortstop, Franken was also Columbiana’s biggest contributor at the plate. With the Clippers down 1-0 in the second, Franken put them ahead to stay when he went the opposite way for a two-out, two-run single. He also recorded another single to go with a walk and two steals.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play in that situation,” Franken said. “I got a fastball high and away. I didn’t square it up as well as I wanted, but it got the job done.”

Though he is just a freshman, Wolf said Franken has made an immediate impact this season at the plate, in the field and on the mound.

“Chase is a freshman, but he knows the game better than almost any high school player I’ve been around,” Wolf said. “He’s playing baseball and watching baseball all the time. He’s little in stature, but he’s got some explosion and he understands the game.”

The Raiders mounted two major threats against Davidson, but both fizzled out before any serious damage was done.

In the first, Jack Bajerski and Randy Skripac led off the game with singles and advanced to second and third on a fielders choice. Bajerski scored on a one-out passed ball, but Davidson retired the middle of the order to keep it a 1-0 game. With the Clippers up 3-2 in the fifth, South Range loaded the bases with two outs for cleanup hitter Jared Bajerski, but Davidson got him to pop out to Franken to end the threat. Columbiana tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single by Vince Vivo, who finished 2-for-3 with a run scored.

“Davidson did a good job keeping us off-balance,” South Range coach Jim Hanek said. “I thought he was able to pitch backwards to a lot of our hitters and they played clean defense behind him. We had opportunities, but they were able to shut us down when they had to.”

Both teams are back in action today. Columbiana travels to East Palestine. South Range hosts Jackson-Milton.

Game notes

¯Columbiana will finish its suspended game at first-place Lisbon next Wednesday. The Clippers were up 11-6 with two outs and two on in the bottom of the eighth when lightning suspended play on Wednesday. The Clippers currently trail the Blue Devils by one game in the league standings. After the conclusion of the suspended game, Wolf said the teams will play a non-conference game.

“We would have both lost a regularly scheduled game anyway, so we figured why not just play another one after we finish. It’s good competition.” Wolf said.

SR: 1-0-0-0-1-0-0–2-5-3

CO: 0-3-0-0-1-0-x–4-5-2

SR–Kelly Keenan, lp, (4IP, 2K, 2BB), Ethan Dominguez (2IP, 1K, 3BB) and Jared Bajerski.

CO–Mitch Davidson, wp, (7IP, 2K, 2BB) and Keenan Green.