CANTON: State rankings are nice, but they don’t mean much once a game is underway.
Unranked Stow proved that Thursday when it defeated No. 1-ranked Jackson 3-2 in a Division I regional semifinal baseball game at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium.
The state coaches association pegged Jackson as the No. 1 team, and rightfully so as the Polar Bears entered play Thursday with a 29-0 record.
Senior Owen Fankhauser hit a home run over the left-field fence in the fifth inning that also scored sophomore Thomas McLaughlin to propel Stow (18-11) to the win.
“We came out and we told our guys that we need to play our game,” Stow coach Aaron DeBord said. “We needed to come out and throw strikes, play defense and put the ball in play. ... We made big plays when we needed to and our big players stepped up and made those big plays for us — none bigger than Owen’s home run.”
Stow, which has won 16 of its past 18 games, will play Solon (24-4) in a regional final at 5 p.m. Friday at Munson stadium. Solon beat Mayfield 11-0 in a regional semifinal.
“It was a fastball,” said Fankhauser, who has two home runs this season. “I knew after my first two at-bats [a strikeout and a walk] I had to take advantage once I got a fastball. ... I saw one and it felt good off the bat.
“Coming from 2-9 [to start the season] is unbelievable. We knew we would get there at some point. Our defense was letting us down time after time, and then our bats started to get going. We just got on a roll after a while and here we are.”
Stow senior Jeremy Parton (8-2) pitched five effective innings for the win and senior Logan Huffman recorded his seventh save of the season by tossing two scoreless innings.
DeBord called Jackson “a very good team,” and said he likes what he sees from starters Fankhauser, McLaughlin, Parton, juniors Jordan Jolly, Nick O’Verko and Matt Conger, seniors Jake Dohar and Scott Swango and sophomores Collin Lang and Eric Schilling.
Fankhauser dubbed Stow as “one of the hottest teams in Ohio.” His teammates agree.
“Given the way we started off, I didn’t think we could get here, but we have gotten hot at the right time,” Parton said. “We have momentum on our side.”
Jolly and Dohar each made spectacular catches in the outfield for Stow, which made it 1-1 in the third inning when Dohar hit a double, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by McLaughlin and scored on a wild pitch.
“It was pretty nice to beat them today,” Huffman said. “We just started bad this year. We have a good team. ... We were playing a little tight at the beginning of the year.”
Senior Sam Miller and junior Jake Mottice each scored a run for Jackson in the second and fourth innings, respectively. Miller’s run came on an error and Mottice, who was pinch running for senior Justin Johnston, scored on senior Chad Matthus’ sacrifice fly.
“Baseball is a very humbling sport,” Jackson coach Bill Gamble said. “I thought we had good plans and good approaches at the plate. We just hit ‘at ’em’ balls all day. We barreled the ball, but there were a lot of line drive outs. ... One of their better players, a great catcher [Fankhauser] smoked that ball [for a home run]. We had a chance to get some crooked numbers and we didn’t. I am as proud as I can be of this group.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the #ABJVarsity high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.