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Heartland makes history against Southern

(Special to the Journal/Lowell Spencer) Heartland’s Devin Sirota dives back into first base as Southern’s Sam May holds him on during a Div. IV district semifinal at Cene Park on Tuesday.

STRUTHERS — The third-seeded Heartland Christian Lions baseball team is making history. For the first time in the school’s history, the Lions have a team sport heading to a district final.

On Tuesday night they took that big step with a resounding 17-3 mercy-rule victory over the seventh-seeded Southern Indians at Cene Park. The win was the third this season for the Lions over the Indians.

“It just means the world to us,” Lions coach Chris Gault said. “We have an incredible group of guys, an incredible school with a lot of people that have given so much to this team. These guys believe they can do it and they just keep going. They impress me over and over again.”

“It means the world to us,” Heartland senior catcher Aaron Gault said. “We have gone through so much adversity going back four years ago we went 3 and 12. Sophomore year was a little bit better and then we didn’t have a junior year like everybody else. We’re going to celebrate. We know we have JFK ahead of us, and they will play good baseball and we need to be ready for that, but tonight we are going to celebrate.”

Following a scoreless first inning, the Lions busted the contest open with eight runs on six hits along with a hit batsman, and a walk. Sophomore Drew Walker and senior Aaron Gault provided the big hits with each collecting two RBI singles. Senior Tom Kling also added an RBI single.

“That second inning was like death by a thousand paper cuts,” Indians coach Gerard Grimm said. “It was a bloop here, a bleeder here, a Baltimore chop off home plate, we did have a routine fly behind second base that we should have made. We talked all year that once you open a Pandora’s box, it’s hard to get it shut.”

“We were confident that we were going to play the best baseball that we could,” Aaron Gault said. “But we knew Southern was a good team. We knew we couldn’t play lackadaisical out there.”

That eight-run inning was all that Lions starting pitcher Hayden Stewart needed as he threw five innings, allowing just three hits and recording seven strikeouts. He did not walk a batter in the game. The three runs he surrendered were all unearned as the Indians took advantage of two Lion errors to score three runs in the third.

“He was fantastic,” Coach Gault said. “He came out with great ball control. We didn’t have any walks so he knew what this game meant to us as a team and to the school and to our community. We are super proud of him.”

The Lions put the game away with a seven-run fourth inning as they collected five hits two walks and a hit batsman. That gave them a commanding 15-3 lead.

“Good batters are going to swing at strikes. We were trying to look for that good pitch early on in the count and I think all of our guys came out with the attitude that they wanted to put the ball in play,” coach Gault said.

The victory improves the Lions to 18-4 on the year as they will advance to the District IV finals at 5 p.m. Thursday at Cene Park. The Lions will take on the fourth-seeded Warren JFK Eagles.

The Southern Indians end their season with a 14-13 record, including a third-place 8-4 record in the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference.

“For this senior class, this is particularly tough because they lost their junior year. It was a group that set the school record for wins as sophomores and then didn’t get a junior year. This was the opportunity we wanted to have with these guys last year. And our sophomores, they are basically freshman because they did get a JV season last year, and a lot of them we needed to fill in roles late in the season,” Grimm said.

“We had goals this year. We didn’t achieve all of them, but two was setting the school record in wins and winning the sectional and we were able to accomplish those.”

HC: 0-8-7-0-2-x-x — 17-17-3

SL: 0-3-0-0-0-x-x — 3- 3-3

HC — Hayden Stewart, wp (5IP, 3H, 3R, 0ER, 7K, 0BB).

SL — Brock Smalley, lp (2IP, 8H, 11R, 3K, 2BB), Timmy West (3IP, 9H, 6R, 2ER, 2K, BB).

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