COLUMBUS - Country Hardball is one step closer to state tournament hardware.
Elmwood, the owner of that team slogan, scored three third-inning runs and senior pitcher Ryan Rothenbuhler made them hold up for a 3-2 victory over Youngstown Ursuline in a Division III state semifinal last night at Cooper Stadium.
The Royals (26-6) will meet 2002 state champion Heath (21-6) in the D-III title game today at 5 p.m. here.
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That starting time was moved from its originally scheduled 7 p.m. slot. Heath advanced by beating Cincinnati Madeira 1-0 in last night's other D-III semifinal.
Rothenbuhler (9-2) threw 57 of his 91 pitches for strikes in his complete-game, seven-hit effort. He struck out three and walked none.
Working quickly in this briskly-played 98-minute game, Rothenbuhler got plenty of help from his error-free defense.
Junior right fielder Ben Hammer had eight of Elmwood's 10 outfield putouts, including a running grab in right-center to end the game.
"They're relentless," Rothenbuhler said of Ursuline's hitters. "That team can hit the ball, and they hit it today.
"But our outfield was great, and the infield made plays. It's a good feeling knowing I have them behind me, and I can just throw strikes."
After leaving runners stranded at second and third in both the first and second innings, Elmwood, which had nine hits in the game, finally broke through on a second-and-third opportunity in the third.
Catcher Nathaniel Fitch opened the third by legging out an infield single, and Hammer (3-for-3) was awarded a single when his slow roller slipped past Ursuline pitcher Robert Switka (8-2).
After Rothenbuhler struck out for the first out, shortstop Cory Stewart came up big with a two-run triple in the right-center gap.
"Between innings coach [Kyle Reiser] said, 'We're setting the plate, somebody's gotta come to eat,'•" Stewart said. "I guess I just got that two-strike pitch and hit it. It felt great.
"I knew it was in the gap, but I wasn't quite sure what I'd get out of it. Coach was waving the runner home so I just kept going. It worked out nice."
Royals first baseman Jon Aurand made it a 3-0 lead by plating Stewart with a sacrifice fly to center.
"That was the key thing to carry this team through," Reiser said of Stewart's hit. "After that, they all had total confidence that this was our ball game."
The red-hot Hammer is 9-for-13 in his last three games, two regional wins and this game.
"We were just trying to make some contact and put the ball in play and run the bases," Reiser said. "That's what we've been doing the last eight games. Try to make the other team make plays. It's worked out, and it worked out today."
The Irish (23-6), the 2006 state runners-up, were scoreless through five innings, but threatened to tie the game in the sixth. Leadoff hitter Ross Revella beat out an infield single and scored on Matthew Yarab's triple to the gap in right-center. Yarab then came home on Ed Rohan's line single to left, but Rothenbuhler got the next three Ursuline hitters to end the rally.
"I knew they'd get the job done," Reiser said. "My heart wasn't beating fast. I just have a lot of confidence in this group of kids, and they have confidence in each other. They brought it down to Columbus with them."
Rothenbuhler yielded a one-out double to Joe Wielbruda in the seventh before closing the door.
"Coach said at the beginning of the year that we're going to finish this thing in Columbus," Rothenbuhler said, "and we were like, 'Yeh, whatever.'
"But it's really here, and we win one game and we get the ring. It's incredible."
Contact Steve Junga at:
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