Twenty-four up, 24 down.
The Grand Valley Mustangs have faced 24 different opponents this season and beaten them all, some more than once.
Thirty-one games played, 30 wins.
Now, the Mustangs sit just two wins away from a Division III state championship after a thrilling 12-11 win over the Ursuline Irish in the regional final.
GV squares off with 21-8 Lima Central Catholic today at 1 p.m. at Huntington Park in Columbus in a state semifinal contest.
With a week to process last Friday’s thrilling win, Mustangs coach Russ Bell said he’s just trying to take care of the final details and take in the moment.
“The biggest thing right now is just trying to take care of all the details,” he said. “You kind of go back through things a lot of things in your head and just realize how grateful I am for us and all of our kids to be in this position.”
While Bell’s group didn’t face too many challenges during the regular season, they’ve responded to every test they’ve seen this postseason.
And, to this point, there have been plenty.
Joe Satterfield helped knock the Mustangs into the district finals with a walkoff hit against Champion. GV came back from a 3-2 deficit to beat Orrville 7-4 in the regional semis.
Then, the Mustangs survived arguably their worst pitching performance of the season to outlast Ursuline when Stanley Sirrine knocked in Mason Berky for the win.
“We’ve had some nail biters through the whole tournament,” Bell said. “Even in the sectional (against Berkshire). We’ve seen it all and they continue to believe in each other and feel like they can come out on top in any situation.
“The tournament thus far has definitely tested us. Any notion of breezing through, which during the regular season we did for the most part, is gone. The kids have shown their mettle throughout and are ready for anything at this point.”
Bell isn’t concerned that his pitching will falter again this weekend.
GV’s hurlers weren’t necessarily bad against the Irish, but struggled to locate pitches at times and gave up 11 runs, a high number for a team with a sub-2.0 ERA prior to last week.
Still, Bell believes they’ll bounce back with a better effort today and (hopefully) Saturday.
“One thing we’ve been doing is having the guys throwing at practice and working on things mechanically and getting them to have confidence in their stuff,” Bell said. “Throwing strikes hasn’t been a problem for us but when you’re playing good teams they lay off those borderline pitches. So we just need to be a little sharper. We were able to outscore some teams and got away with one Friday.
“So it’s a great opportunity for our pitchers to show what we’re made of because I believe we have quality pitchers.”
Bell has no shortage of pitchers at his disposal. Mitchell Lake and Adam Moodt have proven to be top level starters while A.J. Henson has embraced his role as a reliever/closer.
Jeromy Rockafellow also came on to get the final three outs of Friday’s win.
So while Bell has plenty of faith in his rotation, the Mustangs are spending their week of preparation getting ready for any and all situations they could fact this weekend.
“I think it’s just fine tuning everything,” he said. “We’re going back to the fundamentals just fielding ground balls, working certain situations like first and third. We’re working on plays that you might run defensively or offensively and have them ready no matter whether we’ve used them yet or not so we know if we have to use them the kids will be ready.”
Bell said it’s important that his team takes care of itself and what it can control because much like its game against Orrville, he doesn’t know much about Friday’s opponent.
“It’s kind of the same (as Orrville),” he said. “We haven’t seen or heard anything about them and that’s kind of the way we went into Orrville. If we pitch and play our game hopefully at that point, it’ll be enough. They don’t know us either.”
The Mustangs aren’t completely oblivious to the situation in front of them. With eight seniors on the roster and a group of players that went to the state tournament in fifth grade, GV is a team used to playing under pressure.
Many of the players on this roster played on football and basketball teams that had high hopes for their respective seasons, something Bell believes has been a benefit for them come baseball season.
“I just think with these guys have been together so long and played in pressure throughout other sports, most aren’t one-sport athletes they play two and three sports,” he said. “They’ve learned some lessons from years past. We talked about how we can’t change who we are and our mentality as far as staying loose. We play better loose. If we tightened up at all you could really tell and it’s just a lesson learned.
“Also, I think them going to state and a lot of those kids involved in Little League they can kind of go back on that, too. They realize the mentality they have to have to be successful and they’ve done an outstanding job.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Mustangs have a wealth of talent, starting with pitcher/shortstop Mitchell Lake.
The senior leads off for Bell’s group and has delivered on multiple occasions throughout this tournament run whether it be at the plate, on the mound or in the field.
“I mean obviously when he’s on the mound we’re confident,” Bell said. “When we’re hitting, the bottom of the order understand and know if they get on with Mitchell up we’re surprised if he doesn’t get a hit — that’s how well he’s performed this year. He’s had that inner confidence about him. Between him, A.J. and Adam, they’ve really taken on a leadership role in making sure each other stays loose and working with the whole team that way.”
So, the question remains, what is they key to make sure Grand Valley’s
“You never know with any pitching or what you’ll face,” Bell said. “But I feel like the kids believe they can hit anybody at this point, as far as maintaining that confidence. I think the big key is to limit the big inning defensively, throw strikes and play defense the way we have all season.”
Until then, Bell and company will continue soaking in the fact that they’re one of four teams remaining in the state.
“A couple kids stopped on the bus ride and said, ‘we’re one of four left. This is pretty cool,’” Bell recalled. “When you think back to the number of teams that begin the season, to be part of the final four, what an exciting prospect.”
The Mustangs headed to Columbus on Thursday morning, hoping to catch part of the Lake Catholic-St. Francis DeSales Division II state semifinal.
GV also had a sendoff meal after Wednesday’s practice, which Bell said was generously donated by Phil Garcia.
“He’s going to be giving the team and their families a meal, he kind of volunteered for it as a send off and I think that’s just incredible,” he said. “He’s been very supportive of area athletes and I’m very appreciative.”
Bell said the support he and his team has received overall has made the experience even more special.
From students to parents to fellow coaches, he’s been stunned by the support he’s seen from Ashtabula County.
“Overall, the fan support has been almost overwhelming,” he said. “The kids that drove to regionals and I heard them talking about driving down to state’s. That’s exciting along with parents, family, friends.
Saturday, the phone was ringing off the hook.
“Especially, the support of local coaches. I’ve been getting texts from (Jefferson coach) Scott (Barber), (Pymatuning Valley coach) Steve Urchek and (Edgewood coach) Bill Lipps, just them showing their excitement for us and support; it’s been great.
“Just the number of people who said they’re coming (today), I’m excited to see it.”