MASSILLON - The Grand Valley Mustangs have averaged 11.7 runs during a 2012 baseball season that has now covered 31 games.
They needed every one of them, and then some, on Friday as junior catcher Stanley Sirrine knocked the Mustangs into the state semifinal in leading GV to a 12-11 win over the Ursuline Irish in a Division III regional championship game at Carl "Ducky" Schroeder Field at Massillon Washington High School.
In a game that featured a 53-minute fifth inning and saw the Mustangs lead, 6-1, at the top half, trail 7-6 in the bottom half then head to the sixth again leading, 10-7, GV coach Russ Bell saw a resiliency from his team that seems to have become a habit.
Ashtabula Star Beacon / Warren Dillaway
Ryan Strollo (10) of Ursuline walks off the field as Grand Valley’s Adam Moodt (15) (far left) and Mason Berkey (9, on top) jump on teammates, including Jeromy Rockafellow (5), after the Mustangs scored the winning run in a 12-11 victory in a Division III regional final.
"These kids are just incredible with their resolve," he said. "I mean having the lead go away twice and those guys just picking each other up and just believing in each other it's just incredible."
The Mustangs now advance to a Division III state semifinal to be played at Huntington Park in Columbus at 1 p.m. on Friday.
In a stat line that seemed more fitting for a basketball game than baseball game, the Irish and Mustangs were tied five times and exchanged the lead seven times before GV finally claimed a win.
With the Mustangs leading 10-8 going into the top of the seventh, Matt Lacko hit a leadoff double to knock reliever A.J. Henson out of the game.
Jeromy Rockafellow came on in relief of Henson, who pitched 2.1 innings in the regional semifinal before throwing two-plus innings Friday.
Joel Hake knocked in Lacko with a single to left to bring Ursuline within one before Michael Montalbano scored on a Rockafellow wild pitch to tie the contest.
Two batters later, Paul Pegues hit a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Hake to give Ursuline a one-run lead.
Irish coach Sean Durkin elected to bring in Sam Donko, who threw nine innings the day before against Keystone, to close the game out.
Durkin said he felt the Irish didn't have any options other than Donko at that point in the game, having already thrown four pitchers to get through six innings.
"As for Sam, we were pretty much out of options," he said. "Everything fell just right for us where we put him in. I'm not surprised it didn't go his way having just pitched yesterday. (But) we'll go down with Sam any day."
Donko promptly gave up a leadoff triple to Adam Moodt to deep center.
Mason Berkey followed with his fifth single of the game, this one not leaving the infield as the Irish pulled their infield in to hold the lead, but first base was left unattended on the ball hit to short, allowing Berkey to beat it out.
Kyle Hodge was then hit by a pitch in the back of the head. Hodge was taken out on a stretcher following the game for precautionary reasons.
With the bases loaded, Joe Satterfield, GV's hero in a district semifinal win against Champion, drew a bases loaded walk to tie the game.
Then, with the outfield pulled in, Sirrine hit a fly ball that carried over everyone's head, allowing Berkey to score the game winning run.
"I don't know if it was much of a hit, they were pulled way in," he said. "I knew if I hit it deep it was over."
Bell said he predicted that Sirrine, one of only two junior starters for the senior-laden Mustangs, would deliver the final blow for GV.
"He was a little bit down coming in the last inning, (he thought) maybe he didn't block up something he thought he could've blocked up," he said. "So I went in and told him, I said, 'Hey, we need you. You're going to get the game winning hit believe or not.' And he came through.
That's what I told him when he came to plate, 'Here it is.' He's certainly delivered."
The hit capped an impressive day at the plate for Sirrine who went 4-for-5 with two runs scored and one RBI.
While Sirrine's hit was certainly important, what Berkey was able to do in the fifth spot for the Mustangs was just as important.
Berkey finished the game 5-for-5 with three RBI and scored the game-winning run.
"I'm pretty comfortable because the guys in front of me are great," he said. "They always hit the ball and make contact to set the table for me. The end of our lineup always hits, too. Right when we got in (the dugout after the top of the seventh) we talked and started cheering, 'Just one run. We got it. We can make one run.'
"If you look back in the other innings we scored almost every inning so we were pretty confident."
Durkin said GV's balanced lineup was the difference in the game.
"GV hit the ball up and down the lineup today, eight and nine had great days as well," he said. "They put the offensive pressure on us every inning. I'm not sure I've ever been involved in a game where the momentum changed the last three innings like it did today."
Sirrine, the Mustangs' eighth hitter, and Nate Wengerd, the ninth hitter, combined to get six hits and knocked in two runs.
Sirrine said he feels at times the team's only two junior starters get overlooked by opposing pitchers.
"A lot of guys come in and throw to me and Nate like we're nothing and we get rips off of them and it helps out a lot," he said.
While the bottom of the order produced for Bell, that isn't to say the top didn't as well.
Mitchell Lake delivered an RBI-double in the bottom of the fifth while Henson hit run-scoring doubles in the bottom of the first and fourth innings.
Rockafellow scored three runs while Moodt went 2-for-5 with a run scored batting cleanup in front of Berkey.
"I think it's a tribute to their attitude and belief," Bell said of his lineup. "Once we started hitting the ball they never felt any deficit was going to be too big. They felt whoever the next guy was up they're going to do the job. It speaks volume about their character and ability to come back."
Bell gave special credit to Berkey, who he said has embraced an increased role this season.
"Mason's unbelievable," he said. "He's just a great kid. He's one of those kids that you just love to be around him. He had to bide his time a little bit last year and I told him at the beginning of the year
center field is all yours. He just took it and ran with it."
The Mustangs' pitching wasn't as impressive as it has been in previous games.
Moodt seemed to be cruising along, allowing just one run over the first four innings of the game before hitting a batter, allowing a single then walking a batter to start the fifth.
Henson came on in relief and had similar control issues as Ursuline battled back.
"We've won games a lot of different ways and obviously we've masked a lot this year, but we've never won with the quality of pitching and with so much on the line as down here," Bell said. "Today was just a day where the bats just picked up for our pitchers. I expect our pitchers to bounce back.
"I guess I was trying to go to the well once too often with A.J. so he kind of struggled with his command today but he still wanted the ball. That's the type of kid he is."
Sirrine said Rockafellow did a good job limiting the damage in the top of the seventh to keep GV within striking distance.
"We had a lot of location issues, some not bad pitches, but really it just wasn't there today but we got the job done and the pitchers stepped up really big," he said. "He (Rockafellow) was just able to pull it together and come up big for us. If he kept struggling it could've been a lot worse."
Grand Valley 12, Ursuline 11
Division III regional final
Ursuline (20-6)100 061 3 11 9 2
Grand Valley (30-1)201 340 2 12 18 1
WIN: Jeromy Rockafellow (1 strikeout and 0 walks). LOSS: Sam Donko (0 strikeouts and 0 walks). TWO OR MORE HITS: U Paul Pegues 2, Donko 2, Joel Hake 2; GV A.J. Henson 2, Rockafellow 2, Adam Moodt 2, Mason Berkey 5, Stanley Sirrine 4, Nate Wengerd 2. DOUBLES: U Pegues, Matt Lacko; GV Mitchell Lake, Henson 2. TRIPLES: GV Moodt. TWO OR MORE RBIs: U Pegues 3; GV Henson 2, Berkey 3.