Connor Monnin and Jonah Counts lead the way as Russia breaks out the lumber and gets a statement win by beating highly regarded Versailles.
Russia – Kevin Phlipot was in an upbeat mood late Friday afternoon.
“We just haven’t hit,” said the Russia Raiders coach, as he handed me a lineup card prior to his 5-6 Raiders facing 9-1 Versailles. “We have pitched it well, and our defense has been good, but we just haven’t hit well enough to win close games.”
For one afternoon, at least, problem solved.
The Raiders sprayed 13 hits around the ballpark, got two huge defensive plays, and solid pitching to dump the Tigers 8-4.
“Today, we hit,” said a smiling Phlipot after the game. “We just haven’t had anyone step up and get a big hit with the game on the line and today we did. It was good to get the lead early. We are an aggressive team and I like to run. Lot easier to do that when you jump in front.”
“It was just a tough afternoon,” said Tigers coach Ryan Schlater. “We just played flat all day. We just didn’t come to play. That is what it boils down to. We got out of our game plan, and just weren’t ready to play.”
The Raiders jumped on the Tigers as soon as they got off the bus. Russia scored a run in the first on a two out single by Hunter Cohee, added two in the second on a single by Drew Sherman and a run scoring triple by Connor Monnin, and made it 4-0 in the fourth on a rbi double by Sherman.
Things fell completely apart in the fifth for the Tigers, who dropped their second in a row after a tense win over St Henry Tuesday. Russia scored 4 times in the inning, aided by three hit batsmen, an error, a passed ball and a wild pitch. By the time Versailles scored three in the 6th and one in the 7th, it was a case of way too little, way too late.
“We have been behind early before, but normally we come back from that,” lamented Schlater. “We didn’t get going today until we were eight runs down, and that’s too late. We just have to play better.”
Russia had stars all over the diamond. Jonah Counts pitched 5 shutout innings to get the win, Monnin was three for three and scored three times, Sherman had two hits, a sacrifice and drove in two, and Dion Puthoff had three hits, and NONE of them left the infield!
“It was a good team win,” said a happy Counts. “It really helped my confidence to get a few runs early. I was able to mix my off-speed pitches more because of being ahead. Then when they started hitting the off speed stuff, I went back to the fastball.”
“Jonah was terrific tonight,” said his coach. “He kept them off balance with the off-speed stuff. He has had some arm problems and this was his first real test. He really came through for us.”
The two biggest plays of the game came from the defense on back to back plays in the third inning.
The Raiders led 3-0, but Counts was up to his eyeballs in trouble. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out, with their number three and four hitters ready to erase the Raiders lead. Brett McEldowney lined a shot to the right side of the diamond that appeared to be headed to right-field. Instead, second baseman Puthoff took two steps toward the outfield, jumped, and snared the ball in the top of his glove for the second out.
Kurtis Rutschilling, who doubled to lead off the second only to be stranded there, then launched a line drive to right-center that had double written all over it. Well, almost. Kevin Drees, making his first start of the season in right field, raced into the gap in right-center and made a sliding catch in front of the fence to get Counts and the Raiders out of trouble.
“Those were huge,” agreed the right-handed throwing Counts. “That was a great play by Kevin making his first start out there. It was a good team win. I enjoyed every part of it.”
On the day, the Raiders had 8 runs, 13 hits, an error and stranded 8 runners. Versailles had 4 runs, 9 hits, a pair of errors and left 9 men on base.
“This is a great confidence builder for our team,” Phlipot said. “We play a tough schedule, and unfortunately haven’t been able to hit well enough to win some of those games. This is something we can build on. It’s not about how many games you win during season. It’s about getting better every night, and playing your best baseball come tournament time.”
“I think this is a win that could get us going in the right direction,” said Counts, a senior. “This team has a lot of potential. If we hit, we are going to win ball games. Our pitching has been fine. We just need to string together hits like we did tonight.”
“Could be,” Schlater said when asked if the Tigers were flat after their huge MAC win over St Henry Tuesday. “Might be a couple of things. That big game Tuesday, we had a cancellation yesterday because of the weather, and then with rain, today was up in the air for a while. Whatever the reason, we weren’t ready to go, and we have to do better than that.”
The Tigers coach said he is not worried about his ballclub.
“I think this is just a blip on the radar. I know these guys really well, and they are taking today pretty hard right now. We have a game tomorrow, and five next week, and I expect us to come out and play well. It’s good to be able to get right back out there. We’re a good team, and they know that and they know what we did tonight. We’ll come out and be ready to play tomorrow.”
The Raiders qualified for the regional a year ago, and Phlipot believes this team can make another deep run.
“I believe in our pitching staff and defense. It’ll come down to if we can hit consistently enough. Tonight we were the team I envision us being. We have some seniors who have been through it and I believe in them. Hey, baseball is a funny game, and anything can happen. But a game like tonight, and with the schedule we play, that will prepare us for the tournament. Whether we make a deep run depends on these guys. But I think we can do it.”