Steubenville headed back to D-II regional

Photo/JOE CATULLO Steubenville Big Red celebrates with its district championship trophy after Wednesday's game against Indian Valley.

CAMBRIDGE — Back in April, the Steubenville baseball team went through a 2-5 stretch that prompted veteran coach Fred Heatherington to tell his team they were not playing very well.

Since then, his team has turned things around. After his team, the No. 3 seed, got its 18th win in its last 19 games and earned a sixth straight trip to the regional tournament by winning its sixth consecutive district title, 10-0, over No. 2 seed Indian Valley in the East 1 District championship at Don Coss Field inside Cambridge Community Park, he had a different message.

“I told these guys after we got beat in the first game of a doubleheader at Vaccaro on April 13 seven words, ‘we are not very good right now,” Heatherington said. “But, after the game, I told them, ‘we are good.’ We are afforded the opportunity to get back to the regional, but we still have to work, and they know that.

“We started 5-0 and went 2-5, and they decided to get to work. Our assistant coaches and players went to work after that, and if you work hard, good things happen.”

Junior ace Calvin Bickerstaff, who was unable to pitch a large portion of the season because of an injury, was back to his dominate form, needing just 72 pitches for a complete game shutout, striking out nine without issuing a walk and scattering four hits.

“We were lucky enough to get him some innings on the side and some relief appearances,” Heatherington said of Bickerstaff working back from the injury. “He threw well. That is what we need. It’s big to have him back because Niko (Kausky) took a lot of the brunt (of Bickerstaff being out). Now with Bick back, we’ve got a good 1-2 and a good 3-4.”

It took the first two innings against Braves (19-5) starter Cade Williams for the Big Red bats to find a rythm, but once they did, they did not slow down.

“It took us getting through the order one time,” Heatherington said. “I think anytime you see a pitcher that you haven’t seen all year, that is going to happen. Your kids get up there and try to get a rythm on him. Once we got through the order the first time, we started hitting the ball hard.”

Big Red (23-6) held a batting practice before making the trip, which Heatherington thought made a big difference.

“We did something we don’t normally do, we hit before we left,” he said. “Usually when we have a little bit of a drive, we don’t hit. We hit at (Vaccaro) field before we left and I think it helped.”

Scotty Mitchell, who had another multi-hit game for Big Red after a big performance in Monday’s district semi, started the the top of the third with a lead off single. He moved to third when Dom DeFrances reached on an error, and scored the game’s first run on Niko Kausky’s sacrifice fly. DeFrances scored on a Quinn McCoy groundout to first to make it a 2-0 lead for Steubenville.

“We have been preaching that we can’t make mistakes against good teams,” Indian Valley coach Shannon McComb said. “We made a couple mistakes and they took advantage. They put the ball in play hard and we just didn’t have any answers. They have a great program. Coach Heatherington has been there a long time and is always very successful.”

Just as his teammate’s bats started to get going, Bickerstaff got in even more of a rythm on the mound, striking out the side in the bottom of the third. He struck out two each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

“We haven’t seen anything like that on the mound all season,” McComb said of Bickerstaff. “He is pretty darn good.”

Then, the Big Red bats exploded in the fifth.

DeFrances, Kausky and Clayton Criss all singled to load the bases. McCoy hit into a fielder’s choice to keep the bases loaded with one out, then Bickerstaff drew a walk to plate Kausky. J.T. Thompson hit a pinch-hit two-run single to bring Criss and McCoy across home plate, then Ethan Duggan plated him for a 6-0 advantage.

Luke Zorne singled to put two on, then Mitchell ripped a two-run single to shallow center to plate both and push the lead to 8-0, before getting tagged out at second to end the inning.

“We hit some holes through the infield and then they made a couple mistakes,” Heatherington said. “Their pitcher threw 42 pitches on Monday. Our philosophy was we had to get him early and get him out of there, or, if we didn’t get him early and he hangs around, to see as many pitches as we can see. His pitch count got up there, I think he got a little tired, he started hanging some pitches and we got on them.”

Criss, who went 4 for 4 at the plate, made it 9-0 with a one-out RBI double in the sixth — the only extra base hit from either team — to plate DeFrances, who had been hit by a pitch. That ended Williams’ day.

DeFrances plated Duggan with a sacrifice fly to left in the seventh to push the lead to 10-0.

Bickerstaff worked around a one-out single in the seventh. getting the last two outs on a fly out to center and pop up to first. Heatherington went out for a mound visit after the single, but left his ace in the game to finish it.

“He didn’t want to come out of the game and he wasn’t going to come out of the game,” Heatherington said. “His pitch count wasn’t up and he was still strong.”

Steubenville will face Licking Valley, which defeated Bishop Hartley, 5-0, in the Central District final on Wednesday, in the 5 p.m. game in the regional tournament.