Russia overcame the disappointment of an early tournament dismissal to come back and beat Loramie Saturday for the Shelby County League title.
On the Russia Raiders’ first outside baseball practice, on the first Monday following the state basketball tournament, first-year coach Rick Gold leaned on a fungo bat and talked about the virtues of high school baseball that had lured him back after nearly 10 seasons as an assistant at Wittenberg University.
“You know, I missed working with the kids and I missed the competition,” he said with the familiar Rick Gold smile. “The Russia opportunity became available and I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it…great kids, great parents, and great support so far from administration.”
Saturday, it all became clear to Gold with an epic Shelby County League game with Ft. Loramie with the conference championshipon the line. The kids, the competition, the support of the crowd in a 12-inning 1-0 win over the Redskins for the Raiders’ first baseball title in, well…a while.
Russia pitcher Treg Francis was nothing short of fantastic, going the first innings, surrendering 8 hits, walking 1, and striking out 8 Loramie hitters.
If possible, Loramie’s Jared Albers was even better, numerically. Albers went 10 innings, gave up just 5 hits, walked two and struck out 12.
Neither, ironcially, figured in the decision. Dylan Fleckenstein took the loss in the 12th for Loramie, while Isaiah Counts pitched three innings of two-hit baseball, striking out 5, to win it for Russia.
For Gold and the Raiders, a measure of redemption after a loss to Riverside earlier in the week that knocked them out of the Division IV sectional tournament.
For Bill Sturwold and Ft. Loramie, an afternoon of abject frustration for the fact of missed offensive opportunities for lack of two-out hit with men in scoring position in the 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th innings. 10 hits, and 10 men left on base for the game.
“It was a great game,” said Gold afterwards. “I guess you could call it a game for a lesser, great trophy when you consider it was for the league title.
“It’s been a great year, even with the loss earlier in the week to Riverside. They’re a pretty good baseball team and I think our kids learned from that experience. I told them Saturday to execute and play the game, but also to enjoy the experience of playing a great team like Loramie with such a great crowd watching.”
Treg Francis made the most of his words.
“This was great…a great way to win the league championship,” the Russia junior. “It’s been 2003 since we last won it and this was a great way to do it. I just tried to throw strikes and let me defense make plays behind me. Both teams made a lot of great plays today.”
How Russia won it in the 12th…Cole McEldowney, hitting .050, walked with one out. Trevor Sherman flied out. Brandon Barlage grounded in the hole. Kyle Bollheimer didn’t handle it cleanly for an error. Colyn McEldowney, who stung the ball all day, but right at people, topped a roller 30 feet in front of the plate. Fleckenstein picked it up then dropped it to load the bases. Eric Magaoto then hit a soft liner to center on a 3-1 pitch for the go-ahead run.
Russia finished its season with a record of 17-5, 11-1 in Shelby County League action.
Ft. Loramie stands at 18-9 for the year, 9-2 in the league with one game remaining to be played.
“You never know how a baseball game is going to go,” added Gold. “They (Loramie) are a very good program…very well coached. So it makes what we did today all the more special when you consider how we hung around and gave ourselves a chance.
“I have to admit…I’ve always been fortunate to come into a situation where the kids worked hard, were willing to learn, and were willing to compete the way we did today. It was disappointing to lose to Riverside, yes, but no one’s thinking about that now.”
It’s a good win for a title, yes, but more, it’s a great win on which to build for the future of the Russia program.
And like former Dodgers’ manager Walter Alston, who made a career of refusing multi-year contracts, preferring to work from one year to the next, Gold looks forward to coming back next year.
“Looking forward to it? Yes,” he admitted. “Never thought about being compared to Alston, though. That’s quite a compliment.”
17 wins, a conference title, and one of his more memorable wins ever in 12-innings to beat a rival for the Raiders’ first title in 9 year. Without question, a lesser, greater trophy.
There’s your compliment!