Canton: It was all odd innings and crooked numbers for the Jackson Polar Bears on Saturday afternoon.
Jackson did all its damage in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings to defeat Mentor 9-2 in a Division I regional final at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium and advance to its first state final four since winning it all in 2014.
Jackson will square off in a state semifinal against seventh-ranked Lakota West (25-5) at 4 p.m. Friday at Huntington Park in Columbus.
After a somewhat lackluster 11-7 victory over Massillon in the district semifinal, Polar Bears coach Bill Gamble asked for only one thing.
“I knew we had another level in us, so we challenged them to play seven innings of great baseball,” Gamble said. “We didn’t play great baseball in sectionals and districts. We played good baseball.”
Since that test, Jackson seemed laser-focused and on a mission, recording two shutouts (1-0 and 6-0) en route to the regional final.
Facing the Cardinals (18-10) was no different.
Jake Mottice lined a single up the middle to score twin brother Cade in the first inning. The early cushion helped calm starting pitcher Yianni Skeriotis — the starter in the Massillon semifinal — before even setting foot on the mound.
“It relaxed everybody and it allows me to just throw strikes, pitch to contact and help my team win,” said the sophomore right-hander, who is getting looks from major Division I colleges, including Duke.
With Skeriotis confidently cruising through the first two innings, the Polar Bears tacked on three more runs in the third.
It’s no surprise that it started with Jake Mottice, who totaled three singles, a double, a triple, four runs scored, two RBI and two stolen bases in two regional contests.
Mottice chopped a high-hop double to right-field that advanced Dillon Dingler to third before Kyle Nicolas drove in both with a line drive over the second baseman.
The same trio threw up another crooked number with two runs in the fifth. Mottice singled in Dingler before advancing to second on a balk and stealing third. Nicolas followed with his second RBI, scoring Mottice on a groundout to diving Mentor shortstop and Baldwin Wallace recruit Nick Smith.
In a 6-0 hole, Mentor started to chip away.
Tommy Klepcyk singled home Kyle Karchefsky in the fifth and Tom Noll drove in Will LaGanke on an infield single in the sixth.
Dingler, the Jackson catcher and an Ohio State commit, killed any semblance of a rally by back-picking Matt Detering off first base to end the inning.
“Dillon is such a special player,” Gamble said. “It is so impressive and its fun to coach him.”
Skeriotis tossed six solid innings, giving up seven hits and two runs.
He didn’t walk a batter and struck out three. Dingler singled three times and scored three runs. Jake Mottice went 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBI, Nicolas had three RBI and Trey Wright singled twice and scored twice.
With arguably no glaring weakness and two formidable starters, Jackson (28-2) seems primed to earn its second state championship.
Mentor third-year coach Jeff Haase said he expects a similar fate for the Polar Bears.
“That is a very good ball club and we haven’t played anybody better than that,” Haase said. “They are just tough top-to-bottom. If they don’t win state, I would be absolutely shocked.”