Southview will meet St. Francis de Sales in Saturday’s 1 p.m. Division I district baseball final at Mercy Field after each advanced in Thursday’s semifinals there.
In the first semifinal, top-seeded St. John’s Jesuit (21-3) was upset by No. 4 seed Southview 2-1 behind the tight-rope pitching of senior right-hander Alexander Theiss, who walked seven and hit two batters but stranded 12 Titan runners aided by an errorless defense.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view more photos
In the second semifinal, St. Francis (18-6) jumped on Springfield and lefty starter Billy Todorowski early and cruised to a 5-0 victory.
Southview (16-9) did just enough against Titans senior ace Nolan Silberhorn, breaking through in the third inning.
After Tre Simms’ leadoff single, Nick Vlasnik reached on an error by Silberhorn, and Colin Boerst drew a walk to load the bases. Griffin McDonald and Tyler Stambaugh followed with RBI singles for a 2-0 lead.
Theiss (6-2) limited the normally heavy-hitting Titans to just five hits, and escaped potential trouble in the first, second, sixth, and seventh innings.
In the first, he faced a first-and-third, no-out situation. But Southview third baseman McDonald threw out T.J. Lake at home on a fielder’s-choice grounder. Theiss then struck out Mike Barrett and Sam McClurg.
St. John’s left the bases loaded without scoring in the second and sixth innings, and Theiss closed out his victory with a tension-filled final inning, again stranding three Titans.
“I knew that was it,” Theiss said. “I had to bear down right there.
“Their crowd was getting pretty into it, but I knew my team was going to make a play if I put the ball over the plate.”
Theiss retired the first two batters in the seventh and had Ethan Kirkman in an 0-2 count before walking him. He hit Barrett with a pitch, and walked McClurg and Pete Burkett to force in a run.
Southview coach Ed Mouch was ready with the hook, but Theiss, talked him out of it. The Cougars’ ace made good by inducing a game-ending grounder to first baseman Stambaugh.
“We got out of a lot of jams,” Mouch said. “We were teetering on the edge early on, and Xander kept us in it. When we got a couple runs that made him feel a little more comfortable until the seventh inning.
“I was close to yanking him and I said, ‘Can you get him?’ He said yes. He’s been our horse all year long, so what the heck, we were going to win or lose with him.”
Silberhorn (6-1, 0.43 ERA), who yielded six hits and five walks, allowed three earned runs in 49 innings.
“That game was lost in the first couple innings,” Titans coach Greg Christian said. “They’re a young team and we had a chance to put some runs on the board early and maybe get them doubting themselves.
“But we didn’t get it done. We had a base-running mistake in the first inning, and we left the bases loaded three times and just couldn’t come up with that big hit. I tip my hat to their pitcher. The more they hung around the more confident they got.”
St. Francis scored three runs in the second inning with some help from the charitable Blue Devils.
Jay Denman led off with an infield single, advanced on an obstruction call on a pickoff attempt, moved to third on a groundout, then scored on Lankard’s groundout to second.
Drew Stark singled for the Knights, and Mark Phillips reached on an error by Devils pitcher Todorowski (4-3), who walked Andy Okuley and Hayden Huff to force in the second run. St. Francis made it 3-0 on Alex David’s fielder’s-choice grounder to second.
The Knights added two runs in the third, when Denman singled to right, Casey Johnson tripled to right-center, and Lankard plated Johnson with a single.
“It’s my job to throw strikes,” Lankard said. “I tried to mess it up a little bit, but the guys behind me made plays. As long as I throw strikes I think I have a good chance to put up a low number.
“You have to be smart and not let one play affect an inning, or let one inning get too big.”
Lankard (5-0, 1.27 ERA) limited the Blue Devils (16-12) to just two hits in seven innings. He struck out three, walked three, and hit four batters.
“He’s just a competitor, one of the best I’ve ever coached,” Knights coach Tim Gerken said of Lankard. “We thought he could be a No. 1, and the last four games he showed it.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to defend our district title, and now we get a shot at it. We’re excited.”