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St. Clairsville Peaking At the Perfect Time With 9-2 Victory in Ohio Division II Region 7 Semifinal

Red Devils knock off The Plains Athens in regional semifinal

Photo by Rick Thorp St. Clairsville’s Tyler Tonkovich dives back to the bag safely during the Red Devils’ 9-2 victory against The Plains Athens in a Ohio Division II Region 7 semifinal.

ATHENS — From not-so-very-good to Elite 8. That’s the magical journey that St. Clairsville has taken this season.

The Red Devils weren’t playing good baseball early on in the 2019 season. However, just like all head coaches like their teams to be doing at playoff time, they have peaked at the best time possible.

St. Clairsville is one win away from its second trip to the Ohio Division II Final Four. It assured that with a convincing, 9-2, triumph over The Plains Athens in a Region 7 semifinal on a rainy Thursday afternoon at Bob Wren Stadium on the campus of Ohio University. The contest, which took a little more than two hours to play, also withstood a rain delay of 62 minutes in the top of the third with the Red Devils .

“Early in the season we weren’t happy with where we were record-wise and how we were playing as a team,” veteran St. Clairsville skipper Tom Sliva noted. “When we won our district we just weren’t satisfied with being here (regionals). We wanted to compete and make a name for ourselves. We’re halfway there.”

The Red Devils will meet a familiar foe for the Region 7 championship as Steubenville (25-6) defeated Newark Licking Valley, 6-2, in the other semi. Today’s game has a 5 p.m. first pitch, also in Athens. The winner advances to the state tournament at Canal Park in Akron next weekend.

Senior Kyle Storer was again the workhorse on the mound for St. Clairsville (19-10). He handcuffed the Bulldogs (21-8) on five hits while striking out three and issuing two walks. It was very similar to the effort he turned in against Meadowbrook in the district final.

“I knew it was going to be raining and I was getting groundballs. The guys behind me were making plays. It felt good,” Storer said of his complete-game outing which raised his mark to 5-2.

While it was his off-speed stuff that did in Meadowbrook, Storer relied more on his fastball against the Bulldogs, which featured five left-handed hitters.

“My fastball was the main pitch really,” Storer said. “I just needed to hit my spots. It’s kind of hard to do with the ball being wet all the time, but we got it done.

“We’ve had some adversity, but I think this team is even tighter than we were early in the season. We’re playing together. We’re getting a run or two every inning and we’re hitting the ball really well right now.”

For the second straight outing, St. Clairsville has banged out 13 hits, with five different players collecting multiple-hit efforts.

Leading the way was No. 8 hitter Tyler Tonkovich. The junior third baseman moved up from ninth in the order and recorded two singles, a double and triple.

“I’m always ready,” the left-handed hitter said. “It doesn’t matter where I am in the lineup. I just feel relaxed and do my thing which is hitting.”

“Outstanding,” Sliva said of Tonkovich. “We could single everyone out for their performance.”

Matthew Busby (two singles), Peyton Drake (two singles), Jakob Jarvis (single, triple) and Wil Balgo (two singles) all reached base twice, with Balgo recording three runs batted in, including the first run of the contest.

“I thought we did a good job of setting the tone in that first inning,” Sliva said. “I thought we were nervous in the infield, but once the game started we settled down and played our game.

“Wil did a good job of putting the ball in play with two outs and we just followed from there. That’s two games in a row where I’ve thought we have played really good in all three aspects.”

While St. Clairsville tallied nine runs and bashed 13 hits, it also didn’t commit an error in the field.

“We had 13 hits. That pitcher was pretty good,” Storer said of Athens lefty Jack Cornwell. “We put it to him.”

Sliva said a hit-and-run by Jarvis in the first inning that moved Drake to third from where he scored on Balgo’s two-out double was a huge key.

“We put the runner in motion and he (Jakob) finds the hole. Then Wil comes up with a huge two-out hit,” Sliva said. “That kind of set the tone for the game and showed our kids, who were pretty nervous I thought and looked nervous in infield (practice). I think it showed them that they belonged and we could play here..

“Scoring early like that had to take away a lot of butterflies.”

Jarvis tripled home Drake in the third just after the rain delay ended. It was the senior catcher’s first triple of the season.

Storer made it 3-0 with a fielder’s choice in the fourth and Drake knocked in the fourth run a batter later.

Jarvis lofted a sacrifice fly to center that made it 6-0 and a 3-spot in the seventh sealed the deal. Two runs scored on a wild pitch as Storer raced around from second.

Sliva said he hadn’t decided whether Tonkovich or Derek Witsberger would get the ball in today’s regional final.


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