St. Clairsville’s run ends in Division II semifinal

DELIVERY — St. Clairsville pitcher Kyle Storer works to the plate during Saturday’s Division II state semifinal against Gates Mills Gilmour Academy. (Photo by Rick Thorp)

AKRON — Sometimes you simply have to tip your cap to the opposing team, and specifically the pitcher.

Such was the case for St. Clairsville Saturday morning at Canal Park in the OHSAA Division II state semifinals.

The Red Devils came to the Rubber City scoring better than six runs per game in the tournament, but they had not faced a pitcher like Gates Mills Gilmour Academy sophomore Ben Demell, who was as good as advertised in pitching the Lancers to a 2-0 victory and sending them to today’s 4 p.m. state title game.

The Red Devils, who finish the season at 20-11, certainly have nothing to be ashamed about. St. C. was floundering around .500 when the season’s stretch run began. It finished with a flourish to win five of their final seven in the regular season and then five straight in the postseason.

“These guys were senior-led and those kids did a great job,” St. Clairsville head coach Tom Sliva said. “There were times when we could have really let this season get away from us. We got together, had a talk and decided to work. The leaders began to lead, the kids worked hard and we became a good baseball team.”

While Demell, who is committed to Penn State as just a sophomore, will draw most of the attention for his effort, which included a two hitter with eight strikeouts, St. Clairsville senior Kyle Storer was nearly as impressive.

Thrust into the role of staff ace after a defection following the district tournament, Storer responded with a brilliant regional outing and he was as good against Gilmour Academy.

Despite the loss, Storer allowed six hits in a complete-game effort.

“We couldn’t be happier with how (Storer) competed,” Sliva said. “We put him out there (on the mound) as a senior to do that and he did. He just did an outstanding job. We knew Kyle would keep us in the game, and he did.”

Storer, though disappointed with the final score, wasn’t about to hang his head.

“Obviously, it’s tough to see this end, but I am proud of how we stuck together when things got tough. I am going to miss playing with these guys and for coach Sliva. I love these guys, have their back and I’m going to miss them,” Storer said. “I appreciate everything coach Sliva has done for us to help us get to this point. It’s been a fun ride.”

St. Clairsville’s lone true scoring chance occurred in the third. After Demell had sat down the first seven Devils with relative ease, sophomore Tyler Tonkovich hit a looper into no-mans land between the mound and second base for an infield single.

After a sacrifice bunt put him at second, it turned the order over for senior Matt Busby. He fanned, but when the ball skipped away from the Lancers’ catcher, he was able to reach. Storer then drew Demell’s lone walk of the game on four pitches to load the bases.

“(Demell) was throwing hard, but it was nothing we hadn’t seen before,” Storer said. “We just kept getting under the ball and had too many popups. We just didn’t get the job done.”

However, Demell showed the grit you’d expect from a future high major player when he induced a fly out to center, thwarting the Red Devils’ rally.

“I think we had him rattled once or twice, but we just couldn’t get that big hit to really get to him,” Sliva said. “We couldn’t get over the hump.”

St. C. only had runners aboard again in the fifth. Derek Witsberger led off the frame with a single but was erased on a fielder’s choice.

Tonkovich was eventually sacrificed up to second by Cade Wolfe, but again Demell, who was then working with a two-run lead, got a ground out to third.

“I feel we had them in a pickle as many times, if not more, than they had us,” Sliva said. “We just couldn’t get that one, big hit. We put the ball in play, but we would hit the ball right at someone and they made all of the plays. I am just proud of how our kids battled, scratched and clawed the entire game.”

Gilmour, which is now 25-6 on the season, produced a run in the first and fourth. Catcher Nick Christopher drove in his brother, Matt, with a single to begin the scoring.

Nick Christopher, who had three hits in the game, ignited the other rally, too. He singled to begin the fourth, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and was driven in from there by designated hitter Marco Costabile.

“Gilmour is an outstanding team both offensively and defensively, so I think we did an outstanding job (Saturday) because I don’t think they thought they were going to get what they got out of us,” Sliva said. “We didn’t get the big hit when we needed it and they’re moving on.”

Division II State Semifinal

(at Canal Park)

Gilmour Academy 2, St. Clairsville 0

St. Clairsville 000 000 0 — 0 2 0

Gilmour Academy 100 100 x — 2 6 0

St. C: Storer lp (1K, 1BB) and Jarvis. Tonkovich S, Witsberger S.

GA: Demell wp (8K, 1BB) and N. Christopher. Demell D, N. Christopher 3S, rbi; Costabile S, rbi.