The baseball regional set for Thursday at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton could be considered one of the best in the whole state regardless of Division. It just so happens to be the big boys of Division I. These four teams made it through very tough districts to get here, and that can only mean that they are playing their best baseball of the year.
Mentor ..... The Cardinals of Mentor return to Thurman Munson Stadium looking to avenge a regional final loss last year to Aurora. The Polar Bears of Massillon Jackson will be no easy task. Mentor will have to really pitch well to slow down Jackson's explosive offense. Luckily, the Cardinals have strong starting pitching. Either senior lefthander Evan Lovick, or senior righthander Kade McClure will get the ball for Mentor. Lovick has come on strong this season, and is as hot as any pitcher in the state. He owns a 2-hit shutout over Elyria, and even more impressive, a complete game no hitter against Hudson, a team ranked 4th in the state's latest poll. McClure is no slouch either. A University of Louisville recruit, McClure and his high 80's fastball has rolled up the strikeouts this season, and has regional experience, having thrown last year during Mentor's tournament run.
Massillon Jackson.... The Polar Bears are as balanced and experienced as they come. They carry 14 seniors on their roster, many of whom were on state championship teams in grade school and middle school. They have three Division I signees in catcher A.J. Kloehn, and lefthanded pitchers Tim Turner and Sam Williams. Throw in Division II signee Ryan Gasbar, and the Polar Bears have the ability to shut teams down. Either Turner, Williams, or Gasbar will get the start against Mentor. Offensively, Jackson can beat you in a number of ways. Leadoff hitter Kyle Mattice sets the table to allow Turner, Kloehn, and four year starter Jake Miller to drive him in and produce runs. They will be patient at the plate, and will make either Lovick or McClure from Mentor to throw strikes. Arguably, Jackson is the best baseball program in Ohio NOT to make a state final four appearance.
Mentor v.s. Massillon Jackson, Thursday at 2 p.m. at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton
Aurora.... The Greenmen return to the regionals coming off an appearance in the state final four last season. This year's team is just beginning to find its stride. Aurora takes a 19-8 record into its Thursday game against Hudson. They will choose from a couple of sophomores to start the game Thursday in Adam Long or A.J. Kimes. Long threw 6 and a third innings of one hit ball in their district final win against Nordonia. Kimes has been impressive throughout the year, sporting a 1.17 ERA, which includes a win over Mentor. Offensively, the Greenmen just find ways to score and win. Third basemen Nick Ely and second basemen Adam Weber lead the way, while centerfielder Kirk Janoch provides the power. Head coach Tim Deering always seems to have his team ready for a post season run, and this year has been no exception.
Hudson.... The Explorers have been one of those teams that everyone knew was good, but nobody paid attention to. They put an end to that last weekend with this headline: Hudson 8, Walsh Jesuit 3. They are secrets no more. What they have is great pitching and a lineup that can mash. Hudson's starting pitcher on Thursday v.s. Aurora should be senior Nanak Saran. Saran is 7-0 on the year, and hasn't given up more than three runs in any start. Sophomore Ian Swan and senior Jared Hoffman will also be available as Hudson has as deep a staff as anyone still left in the tournament. Offensively, the Explorers are led by Joey Cahill, Kevin Zullo, Jacob Stuursma, Braeden Wright, Sam Evans, Saran, and Hoffman. It's a lineup that can score a lot of runs in a variety of ways.
Aurora v.s. Hudson, Thursday at 5 p.m. at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton
So who wins? This regional is as tough as any you can have. A case can be made that any one of the four teams can advance to Columbus
The winners of the games on Thursday will meet on Friday at 5 p.m. with a trip to Columbus on the line.