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Day dominates; Gantz fuels offense and South baseball advances in districts

Makai Day did not necessarily overpower Canton Saturday afternoon. That really is not his style.

Instead, the junior produced a pitching clinic. Day commanded four different pitches, spotted them wherever he wanted and moved the ball up inside, outside, up and down. His left arm became a paint brush and Day painted a masterpiece while helping South reach the District 4 Class AA semifinals for a fifth straight year.

Day threw a two-hitter, struck out 10 and did not allow an earned run Saturday as South defeated Canton, 3-1 in the district quarterfinals. DJ Gantz (2 for 3) ignited a three-run fifth-inning rally, Kaden Shay hit a two-run triple and South earned a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against Wyalusing.

“It was pretty exciting,” Day said. “I just knew I had to come out here, throw strikes and hopefully my team would make the plays and they did.”

“The thing about Makai is you know he’s going to be around the plate and efficient,” South coach Casey Waller said. “He was at 73 pitches going into the last batter and I really wanted him to finish it because he pitched a great game.”

Day not only threw a terrific game but also stayed eligible to throw Tuesday since he was below 75 pitches going into that last at-bat. Day was virtually untouchable, and Cooper Kitchen (2 for 3) was the only player who produced a hit against him. Day retired 16 straight batters between the first and seventh innings, walked none and sent down 21 of 23 batters.

Following a breakout sophomore season, Day has really flourished and is pitching his best at the perfect time. Over his last three appearances, including two starts, Day has allowed one earned run, seven hits and struck out 18 in 15 1/3 innings. Take a deeper look what he did Saturday and one realizes truly how dominant Day was.

In addition to never going to a three-ball count, Day fired 58 of his 78 pitches for strikes and threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 23 batters. He never threw more than five balls in one inning, struck out four straight at one point and kept Canton off-balance with his fastball, curveball and change-up.

If not for two seventh-inning throwing errors, Day would have had a shutout. Still, the defense came up big outside of that blip with outfielders Ben Stoetzel and Grant Bachman making sensational, diving catches to take away hits. Combine that with Day’s mastery and South was too much for a Canton team which overcame huge odds all season.

“I just felt like I kind of got into a groove early and it was just good the whole game pretty much,” Day said. “All four of my pitches were working well. I felt like I could throw all four of them for a strike at any time, so that’s definitely a good thing.”

Day’s virtuoso performance brought an end to the remarkable career of Canton coach Bob Rockwell. After 35 years, Rockwell is retiring following 430 victories, multiple district championships and a 2013 state final appearance. Universally respected, Rockwell got the best out of his teams every year and his final coaching job was one of his best.

The Warriors had already lost a strong core from last year’s district semifinalist and were dealt major blows when three returning starters were lost to season-ending injuries. Canton also started 1-6, but made massive strides, revealed its toughness by overcoming six late-game deficits and gave South a battle two weeks after losing against it, 13-3.

Canton did not lose Rockwell’s final game, South simply won it. Kitchen pitched a super game, taking a shutout into the fifth inning, the defense made no errors and Canton made one last statement about its successful season.

“Cooper Kitchen went out and competed. We hit some balls hard but they made all the plays,” Waller said. “Bob does a great job and we needed some timely hits because Canton has a lot of speed and went they get on they can cause havoc on the bases.”

On a day when the game-time temperature hovered in the mid-90s, Gantz provided the spark which soon became an inferno and finally started melting Canton’s chances. The senior first baseman has enjoyed an excellent season and led off the fifth inning with a double into deep center field. Grant Bachman followed with a single before freshman Tadd Lusk continued his late-season surge and hit a sacrifice fly, bringing in pinch-runner Remington Minier with the game’s first run.

“We were putting the ball in play the whole game,” Gantz said. “We were hitting it hard but they were making the plays out there. To spark it and score three runs that inning is a good feeling. It’s very satisfying.”

Chase Beck and Shay provided a little extra satisfaction and some big-time insurance runs later in the inning. Beck fought back from a 1-2 count to work it full and then smash a two-out double into the right-center field gap. After Landon Lorson was intentionally walked with first base open Shay made it pay and ripped his two-run triple down the right field line as Soth took a 3-0 lead.

“It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as we come through when runners are in scoring position,” Gantz said. “If you get runners on, good things will happen. All we needed was a couple runs and Makai was pitching a great game and we have a good defense, so all we needed was a little spark.”

Different players took teams lighting that fuse and South hopes that carries into the semifinals against Wyalusing. Those two split two contests last year with Wyalusing winning in the regular season and South in the quarterfinals.

“I’m proud of the guys for staying in there and competing but we still have to clean up some things baserunning and defensively,” Waller said. “We’ll just get back at it (Monday) and go to work.”

Canton 000 000 1–1 2 0

South 000 030 x–3 7 3

Cooper Kitchen and Brenen Taylor. Makai Day and Kayne Jones. W–Day, (6-2). L–Kitchen, (7-4).

Top Canton hitters: Kitchen 2-3, R. Top South hitters: DJ Gantz 2-3, 2B; Chase Beck 1-2, 2B, R; Landon Lorson 1-2, BB, R, SB; Kaden Shay 1-3, 3B, 2 RBIs; Grant Bachman 1-2; Ben Stoetzel 1-3.

Records: South 14-5. Canton 12-9.

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