Raiders clinch berth in state finals

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Southridge senior Colson Montgomery (2) shows excitement after he scored a run in the bottom of the first in Saturday's semi-state championship game against Brebeuf Jesuit. Montgomery also provided the Raiders with a crucial insurance run with a solo home run and brought the game to its final score, 4-2. 

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

JASPER — Southridge has waited 24 months for the chance to play for a state championship again, and that day for another opportunity has come.

The Raiders (25-7) will once again make their way to Victory Field following Saturday's 4-2 semi-state win against Brebeuf Jesuit. They will be taking on Hanover Central for the Class 3A state championship.

"In my coaching career, that's the biggest win I've ever had," Raiders coach Gene Mattingly said.

It meant everything to him that the Raiders have competed like they have after ascending from Class 2A to Class 3A. They've found their way thanks in large part their four senior NCAA Division I signees: Chase Taylor, Ethan Bell, Camden Gasser and Colson Montgomery.

"It is mostly just confidence from all of us - knowing that we had core four guys that can really get the job done, and we've been in these situations in the postseason," Montgomery said.

To get back to this point, Southridge had to deal with junior right hander Andrew Dutkanych of the Braves. Dutkanych is committed to continue his career at Vanderbilt University. However, the Raiders jumped on him early.

Gasser set the table with a leadoff triple in the bottom of the first, and Montgomery brought him in with one out in the bottom of the first. Bell's RBI double plated Montgomery for a 2-0 lead and Gasser's RBI flyout brought in senior Konner Thyen to make it 3-0 in the bottom of the second.

"I was just looking for a fastball," Gasser said of his triple. "I saw a first-pitch curveball - kind of caught me off guard. And once I saw that fastball, my eyes lit up and I hit a ball hard."

"He's a junior in high school that's got better stuff than we've probably faced all year," Mattingly said of Dutkanych. "And we knew that if we could get onto his fastball, we would be alright, and we trained all week to hit the fastball. And if he beat us with the off-speed, well, we were going to tip our cap and say, 'Great job.' However, he wasn't able to beat us with the fastball."

The Braves did make it interesting in the middle innings, however. Brebeuf scored a run in both the top of the fourth and top of the fifth. Its first run came when junior Luke Bauer scored on a sacrifice fly. However, a 7-6-5 double play brought two outs to limit Brebeuf to that one run.

Another run came when sophomore Jayden Ohmer singled in senior Cole Hartung to make it a one-run game, and the tying run was soon at third base. Ohmer collided with Gasser at third on an infield single from senior Nate Bingman.

"I'm not going to lie - with the heat and everything, it was kind of blurry at first," Gasser said. "But then, I just popped up and tried to hop back into it. I knew Ethan would pick me up."

Bell bounced back to strikeout Bauer to retire the side, and he told the Herald how he kept his composure in that situation.

"Just throw strikes, let 'em hit it, trust the defense behind you - they'll work for me," Bell said. "Let my pitches work and everything will work out, and it did. And it's great."

An insurance run came when Montgomery sent a moonshot into orbit in the bottom of the fifth to bring the game to its final score. Montgomery took a few seconds prior to leaving the batter's box and trotting around the bases, but it wasn't the home run he was admiring.

"I looked at the crowd, honestly," he said. "I looked at everything, I was just like, 'Man, this is all crazy.' I really didn't look at the ball or anything because I was just so proud of this crowd, too, coming out and supporting us. We couldn't do it without them."

Montgomery felt his home run provided a momentum shift, and Bell enjoyed a 1-2-3 top of the sixth. He couldn't quite finish the job, however. Bell departed after 6.1 innings of work and left with a couple of Braves on base. They had the go-ahead run at the plate with one out in the top of the seventh.

Yet, if Bell picked up Gasser earlier, it was Gasser's turn to pick up Bell. He came in to shut the door for the final two outs to preserve the win.

"I know I got a great defense behind me," Gasser said. "So, I'm very confident when I throw the ball that they're going to make the good play."

To have one final opportunity at a state championship means so much to these seniors who came up just shy as freshmen and sophomores and were denied a junior season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're hungry, we want it bad - this coaching staff does as well," Gasser said. "So, we're ready to go. We're going to celebrate this one, but by next week, we're going to be ready to go, and we're going to finish it."




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