MASSILLON - Grand Valley used timely hitting, strong pitching and a dazzling play in the field to continue its impressive run through the Division III state playoffs as the Mustangs knocked off Orrville, 7-4, in a regional semifinal at Carl "Ducky" Schroeder Field at Massillon Washington High School.
The victory catapults the Mustangs into the regional championship game today against Ursuline, a 3-2 winner against LaGrange Keystone in nine innings in Thursday's second semifinal at Schroeder Field.
Much of that hitting, pitching and the amazing play came from GV starting pitcher-shortstop Mitchell Lake.
Lake picked up the win on the mound, going 4 innings pitched and allowing four runs to improve to 7-0 on the season.
He also broke the game open with a two-run triple in the top of the sixth and robbed Orrville's Layne Scheufler of a base hit on a diving catch in center field in the bottom of the sixth.
The Mustangs' A.J. Henson got the save, as he continues to embrace the closer role for coach Russ Bell, throwing 2 scoreless innings.
The senior, one of seven from the class of 2012 who started for GV (29-1), said it wasn't as much about what he did on the mound but some of the defense he got behind him.
"I honestly don't think I pitched great," he said. "You see some plays, like Mitchell's play behind me - that was amazing. He went halfway into center field and he catches that ball. He was making plays at shortstop. They just need me to come in for a couple innings, I'm fine with that."
Lake pushed the lead to three runs in the top of the sixth when he knocked in Kyle Hodge and Joe Satterfield with two outs with a triple into the left-center field gap.
Lake credited Bell for giving him confidence going into the at-bat.
"(I was thinking about) coach (Russ) Bell," he said. "He told me, 'The next time you come up, you're going to get a big RBI chance and you're going to put it in a gap.' I was like, 'All right, I'll trust you.' The first pitch, I hit it right into my alley way."
That took some of the pressure off Henson, who got out seven of the eight Red Riders batters he faced.
None of those outs may have been bigger than the first one he got.
After Lake struck out Stuart Schley and A.J. Perez to start the bottom of the fifth, he proceeded to hit Trevor Kerr and Kyle Johnson before allowing a single to J.T. Perez. The ball was misplayed in center and Schley came home to bring the score to 5-4.
Henson came in with the go-ahead run on second base and struck out Kyle Ritchie for the final out of the inning.
"That's obviously a big ace in the hole that we have there to bring in A.J. to come and close the game," Bell said. "He has a different arm angle and he just has that mentality that he's going to come in and shut it down. The defense behind him just believes in him and he's a strike throwing machine and obviously that's good to play defense behind."
Peluso writes for the Star Beacon in Ashtabula