They’ve fought the elements, the cold, and too many “moral victories” in the words of their coach. Now, it’s time for the Russia Raiders to make some noise.
Russia – While the rest of Shelby County focused on Fifth-Third Field in Dayton Thursday evening, and the matchup between Division IV powers Loramie and Lehman, there were maybe two dozen locals who braved another lovely spring evening in western Ohio to watch Shelby County League foes, the Russia Raiders and Jackson Center play behind Russia High School.
For the sake of baseball, well, uh…this was not the same Jackson Center who just eight weeks ago went to the Division IV state basketball tournament, even with many of the same kids. There was Drew Sosby, Bryce Sosby, Brady Wildermuth and Ethan Zorn.
And to be sure there was a time when high school baseball at Jackson Center was as tough as anyone you’d want to play. Ah, but the cycles…of athletes, and athletes who play multiple sports, but noticeably with a priority for one over another. The Tigers had won two games previous to Thursday night (against Fairlawn) the Raiders served notice in the bottom of the first inning…that there would be no headlines of any upset!
Russia scored eight times in the first to take an 8-0 lead.
They followed with four more in the second, one in the third, and three in the bottom of the fourth. All the while Hunter Cohee was making life even more miserable on the Jackson Center hitters by limiting to them to just three hits in a five-inning, run-rule, 16-0 win.
It wasn’t good baseball, but there were signs evident…signs of a 13-8 Russia team under Kevin Phlipot that might be on the verge of playing its best baseball with the advent of next week’s sectional tournament. Indications that while the handicappers leaned on the rail to gauge the veritable merits of favorites Ft. Recovery, Loramie, Lehman, and others farther south, it could work out to be a season-ending mistake if any one of those team were to take Phlipot’s Raiders lightly.
Foremost of signs, like every other area team that’s fretted under the “on-again, off-again” weather of the past five weeks, Philpot’s Raiders are playing like a team that’s found its “mojo” and is now capable of playing with consistency.
They have some frustrating losses, to Greenville, Loramie, and Ft. Recovery…and some encouraging wins, against Versailles, that same Ft. Recovery, and Sidney. But now, 21 games into their season, Philpot contends that they’ve found their stride.
“Just getting started for us was frustrating,” he said following Tuesday win. “We were off those ten days because of the weather and when we did got back out it was like starting all over. Baseball’s supposed to be fun, but it’s not fun when you’re biggest concern is staying warm, or holding on to the bat because your hands are so cold. And frankly, there were some big games that I didn’t look forward starting out because of the weather, like at Loramie. And it was just hard to be excited about playing because it was so cold.
“But these kids have gone out every day and they’ve done it. Now we’re at the point of our season where I tell the kids we have the talent to be tough. I don’t have to win 20 ballgames as long as we compete in the Shelby County League and the postseason. Every game that we’ve lost this year has been by four runs or less. We’ve played against the best in the MAC, our league, Sidney, Piqua, Arcanum, and we’ve beaten some of those teams. We’ve struggled offensively at times, but we’ve pitched and we’ve played defense. The most we’ve give up this year is seven runs.”
Kevin Phlipot cannot help it…that the Raiders will be overlooked for the sake of more highly touted opponents to come. He bristles at the notion of being an assumed “spoiler”, because the Raiders DO HAVE the talent and competitive makeup to play with the Recoverys, Arcanums, and Loramies on any given day.
“We’re not looking for any more moral victories,” he emphasized Tuesday. “The fact is that there have been so many games that had we put a ball in the gap here or there it’s a different ballgame. A 4-3 loss could have been a 5-4 win. But we’re not a spoiler. We’ll go in expecting to win every game that we play.
“It’s disappointing to play some good teams and come out just short as often as we have. We’ve been right there, and we’ve done it against Versailles and Recovery. But you can only have so many moral victories. I believe in these guys. I know they’re going to compete, we definitely have enough arms, and if we play with that attitude I expect to be playing for another two weeks.”
He (Phlipot) was surprised to see us Tuesday. It wasn’t the test he had hoped for, and it wasn’t the kind of game that was apt to draw media attention of any kind.
But he’s accustomed to that. It’s been that kind of year – hard to get started and hard to keep going. It was bright and sunny, 63 degrees, when Tuesday’s first pitch was thrown. By the middle of the third it was dark as pitch, spitting rain, and the temperature had dropped ten degrees. But the Raiders kept playing – kept hitting, running, making plays and pressing the issue. They played as if making up for lost time.
That’s how they want to play…for the next two weeks!