Polar Bears face Lakota West in Friday's 4 p.m. state semifinal after rolling to regional wins by a combined 15-2.
The Polar Bears are coming in hot after last weekend’s regional tournament.
“They know they’ve got it in them,” Jackson High School head baseball coach Bill Gamble said as his team prepped for this weekend’s state tournament. “Now our job as coaches is to get them to do it again.”
Do it twice and Jackson will hoist another state championship to go with the one it earned during basketball season.
Jackson (28-2) faces Lakota West (25-5) in a Division I state semifinal on Friday at 4 p.m. at Columbus’ Huntington Park, with the state championship game to follow Saturday night at 7. Strongsville (24-8) and Olentangy Orange (22-8) play in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Polar Bears enter having dispatched of their regional opponents — Walsh Jesuit and Mentor — by a combined 15-2. Jackson is the top-ranked team in the state according to the coaches association, and it played like it last week.
“I think everyone kind of has faith,” said Jackson senior catcher Dillon Dingler, an Ohio State recruit. “All the players know what their capabilities are. If we all play together and well, we know how good we can actually be.
“… I feel like we should expect to win.”
Jackson won the Federal League for the fourth straight year and is back at state for the first time since winning its only baseball state championship in 2014. Lakota West, ranked seventh in the state, won the Greater Miami Conference and returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2008. The Firebirds won their only state championship in 2007.
The probable pitching matchup is intriguing with a couple of 6-foot-3 senior right-handers.
Gamble isn’t naming a starter just yet, but it figures to be Kyle Nicolas. The Ball State recruit is 7-0 with a 0.43 ERA. He has thrown 19 scoreless innings in the tournament. He and Dingler were on Jackson’s state championship basketball team.
Sophomore Yianni Skeriotis, who started Jackson’s district semifinal and regional final, is 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA.
Lakota West likely will counter with Jake Kates, who is 10-1. Kates is headed to High Point as a corner infielder.
“Big-time arm,” Gamble said. “He’s going to be tough, but you’ve got to be tough to get to this point.”
Kates’ fastball sits in the mid 80s. Nicolas hit 93 on the radar gun in his regional semifinal start against Walsh Jesuit. Both Kates and Nicolas are first team All-Ohio per the coaches association.
Lakota West won its regional this year with a pair of 2-1 wins against Centerville and Cincinnati St. Xavier. Head coach Greg Leurck didn’t know what to expect from his Firebirds entering the season in part because of some injuries, but they’ve specialized in pulling out close games.
“The guys have come through pretty much all year, doing what they need to do to win,” Leurck said.
Gamble compared Lakota West’s offense to Tallmadge and Hudson. The Firebirds will use their speed and aggressiveness to create opportunities, which sounds a lot like Jackson.
Kates, senior first baseman Dominic Schivone, senior left fielder Brennen Martin and junior centerfielder Bryce Johnson are the main run producers for the Firebirds, each owning more than 20 RBIs.
“You don’t get out of the Cincinnati region unless you have depth and have guys that know how to compete,” Gamble said.
Up to 10 Lakota West players are committed to play college baseball on some level next year.
Martin and Johnson both made second team All-Ohio for Lakota West. Dingler was second team All-Ohio for Jackson.
Dingler bats .433 with 35 runs scored, 27 RBIs and 12 doubles — all team highs.
“He’s one of the best catchers I’ve seen in high school ball in 19 years of coaching,” Leurck said.
Dingler leads a Jackson offense that is coming off a great weekend.
No. 3 hitter Jake Mottice, Jackson’s senior centerfielder, is 5-for-5 with a triple, four runs scored, four RBIs and two walks in his last seven plate appearances. Nicolas drove in four runs during the regional tournament, while sophomore second baseman Trey Wright went 4-for-6.
“I think our execution of small ball and base running could be a little cleaner,” Gamble assessed. “And I think our communication could be a little bit better.
“Am I nitpicking? Absolutely. Am I allowed to at this point? Absolutely.”
The polls know
The No. 1 team in three of the four divisions according to Ohio’s baseball coaches association made it to state. They are Jackson in Division I, Hiland in Division III and Toronto in Division IV. Division II poll champion Wapakoneta lost in a district final.
The Polar Bears will have a community sendoff Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in the high school commons. They will depart at noon from door 16W. They plan to work out in the Columbus area that afternoon and watch Tallmadge’s Division II state semifinal against Maumee at 7 p.m.
Lights, camera, action
All four state titles games will be streamed live at www.MySpectrumSports.com. The Division II, III and IV games will be aired live on Spectrum channels 311 and 1311. Division I will be shown tape delayed at 9 p.m. on Spectrum channels 314 and 1314.
Depth to play with
Jackson has plenty of talent — too much in fact to have everyone playing that probably deserves it. A senior such as Jack Dear, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards in football, comes off the bench as a situational hitter. Senior TJ Donley bats .313 but is stuck behind Ohio State recruit Dillon Dingler at catcher.
“There are a lot of kids on the bench that could honestly go and start for other Federal League teams,” senior pitcher/first baseman Kyle Nicolas said. “So I feel like a lot of these kids have accepted their roles and just want what’s best for the team. Put themselves aside.
“You just have to deal with it in a program like this.”
Reach Josh at 330-580-8426
On Twitter: @jweirREP