Raiders have been waiting for this

GREENFORD–From the start of practice in February, South Range coach Jeff DeRose had Tuesday’s Div. III district semifinal circled on his calendar.

“Coming off our state runner-up appearance in 2016 we’ve lost in this round the last two seasons,” DeRose said. “This is the game that I’ve had my sights set on all season.”

Behind a strong performance from pitcher Bree Kohler and a balanced offensive effort, the top-seeded Raiders ensured they’ll return to the district final for the first time in three years with a 6-2 victory over fourth-seeded Springfield in a Div. III district semifinal Tuesday at South Range High School.

The Raiders (19-8) move on to play third-seeded Crestview for the district title at 5 p.m. Thursday at South Range High School.

“Last year was really devastating to fall short at this stage because we worked so hard,” Kohler said. “This year our goal was to win this game and get back to a district final. Now that we did, I’m excited to move on and get ready for Thursday.”

“Winning tonight’s game was my goal coming into this season, and of course now the goal changes,” DeRose said. “Thursday is another big day. We’re excited about being on our home field for another district championship.”

Kohler finished with 11 strikeouts and just one walk. She was lights out over the first five innings as the Raiders built a 4-0 lead.

“She’s one of the best pitchers this program has ever seen,” DeRose said. “The beautiful part is I have her for two more years, but right now I’m just worried about doing something this year.”

Kohler helped her own cause when she rifled a no-doubt-about-it solo homer over the center field fence in the first. She created another run in the fourth when she beat out a bunt single, stole second, was sacrificed to third and came home on an RBI single from Jillian Strecansky.

“I just got in the box and tried to hit it as hard as I could.,” Kohler said of her first inning blast.

After the Tigers got to Kohler for a pair of runs in the sixth, the Raiders answered right back when catcher Jillian Strecansky slammed a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame. Strecansky finished with a game-high three RBIs, while Drew Feren added a two-run single.

“Those runs took a lot of stress off me knowing my team had my back,” Kohler said. “I was able to go out and pitch the seventh with a lot more freedom.”

Springfield (15-9) was led by Molly Pontius with an RBI double and Jacqueline Kish with an RBI single. The Tigers put two runners on in the seventh, but could get no closer.

“We hit the ball pretty decent all year, but good pitching stopped good hitting today,” Springfield coach Bill Amero said. “I was disappointed in the fact that we had so many strikeouts. You have to put the ball in play for good things to happen. I have to give a lot of credit to Kohler, she did a great job bearing down when she had to.”

Game notes

¯ The Raiders and Rebels, old Inter-Tri County League rivals, did not play during the regular season this year. The Raiders won the last meeting in 2018 10-0 in five innings behind a combined no-hitter from Kohler and Madison Weaver.

“I know the coaches from Crestview very well,” DeRose said. “They’re a good team and they’ve had a great season. We have a lot of respect for them.”

¯ Kohler now has nine home runs on the season, while Strecansky has five.

¯ DeRose said the competition in the new Northeast 8 Athletic Conference has benefited the Raiders greatly.

“It’s been great,” DeRose said. “It’s all Div. II teams except Girard and that’s great for us because we always play a tough non-conference schedule. I’m not chasing regular season wins, I’m chasing getting these kids better for the postseason and here we are in the district final.

SP: 0-0-0-0-0-2-0–2-5-2

SR: 1-0-0-1-2-2-x–6-8-0

SP–Abby Joseph, lp, (5IP, 1K, 0BB), Jacqueline Kish (1IP, 0K, 1BB) and Mya Duskey.

SR–Bree Kohler, wp, (7IP, 11K, 1BB) and Jillian Strecansky.