Russia delivered a little payback for two regular season losses…and a painful memory from the sectional basketball tournament…with an 8-4 win Friday in the regional baseball tournament.
Springfield – The way he crushed it into the right-centerfield gap, it’s possible the fastball coming at Russia High School senior Drew Sherman looked as big as a basketball.
If so, it was a poetic way to decide the Division IV regional semifinal between Shelby County League foes – and off-field friends – Russia and Fort Loramie. A few months after Fort Loramie upset Russia during basketball season in the sectional final, the Raiders delivered some payback in the baseball regional semifinal Friday at the spacious Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.
Twice Russia lost to Fort Loramie and sophomore starter Jared Middendorf during the regular season. Russia coach Kevin Phlipot said his Raiders have faced Middendorf five times in the past two seasons and managed four runs at the most.
On Friday, the Redskins staked Middendorf to a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the fifth.
And, perhaps inspired by the hardwood, the Raiders finally delivered some hard knocks against the Redskins.
Russia tied the game in the bottom of the fifth and went ahead for good with a four-run sixth inning. The key hit was Sherman’s two-run triple that found the gap and rolled to the fence.
“It was right down the middle and I was trying to take it middle-away like coach says,” Sherman said of hitting Middendorf’s pitches to the right side. “I was just trying to make contact. I wasn’t trying to hit it like that.”
Daril Lavy started the inning with a walk. Dion Puthoff’s one-out single moved pinch runner Trenton Monnin to third and chased Middendorf from the game. Dylan Cordonnier reached base when shortstop Daniel Berning slipped fielding the hit up the middle and threw late to first, scoring Monnin for the 5-4 lead. Sherman then tripled to drive in Puthoff and Cordonnier for the 7-4 advantage. Kevin Drees’ third hit plated Sherman for the final score.
“We’ve seen him twice last year and twice this year and we really couldn’t put the bat on the ball,” Drees said of Middendorf. “We had guys throwing left handed to us so we could see a little more of that. Today we saw the ball really well and put all of our hits together.”
Russia reliever Jack Dapore put Fort Loramie down 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh to complete the victory. He pitched 2.1 innings of one-hit ball, striking out two and walking two. Russia starter Daniel Kearns went 4.2 innings and allowed six hits, four runs (two earned), struck out two and walked one.
“We worked for this moment all season” said Kearns. “It was really competitive in the league all year. For both of us to get this far, unfortunately Anna lost in the district final, but it was a great league.”
Middendorf went 5.1 innings and allowed seven hits, six runs (five earned), walked two and struck out three.
“I think we were more comfortable seeing (Middendorf) a third time,” Phlipot said. “Even though we haven’t had the most success, the guys were just ready. … They wanted this. That (basketball game) hurt. They knew how much it would hurt if Loramie beat us. I told them no wasted swings against this kid. He’ll off-speed you on the first pitch. If you go wailing on it thinking a fastball is coming, we’re down 0-2 swinging on a ball in the dirt.
“With these two teams there’s no secrets. When it gets down this deep in the tournament it comes down to pitching and who can execute. It’s who can avoid the big inning and make plays.”
While Fort Loramie knew Middendorf was getting the start, Phlipot debated between Kearns, Dapore and Shelby County League Player of the Year Hunter Cohee.
“It was a popular topic who was going to pitch,” Phlipot said. “I got all three guys together and I told them we need all three of you to get to Columbus. Hunter has been our go-to guy, but just the way things have gone, I thought this was the best opportunity to win two ball games. We told Hunter don’t be disappointed. You’re going to be the guy on Saturday. … Worst-case scenario is we’ve got the Player of the Year coming to pitch and give us an opportunity to get to state.”
Russia takes on Newark Catholic at noon Saturday for the regional championship and a trip to the D-IV state semifinals. Newark Catholic beat Tri-County North 5-4 in the second game of the semifinal doubleheader.
The regional final appearance is the first for Russia since 2013, which ended in a 4-1 loss to Crestview. The Raiders also reached the regional semis in 2015. Twice Russia has been to the state tournament, but you have to go all the way back to 1975 (finishing second) and 1971 (state champs).
“It came down to making plays,” said Fort Loramie coach Bill Sturwold. “We didn’t get a bunt down the last inning when we had runners on first and second. Just the little things you have to do. But that’s high school baseball. I’m very proud of the kids. It’s been a very satisfying season.”
That Fort Loramie was in the regional semifinals was an impressive feat for the Redskins. The up-and-coming Redskins found themselves struggling at 6-7. But they rattled off 14 wins in their final 17 games prior to Friday’s regional semifinals. They even grabbed a share of the SCL championship in a three-way tie with Russia and Anna, beating Russia twice by scores of 3-2 and 4-0.
“I felt like we had the pitching. Some of the kids were showing signs of hitting,” Sturwold said. “The first 10 games we had about three or four kids that weren’t ready for varsity baseball. As they got a little stronger and seen better pitching they turned into pretty good ball players.”
Expect another strong run from the Redskins next season. Fort Loramie graduates two seniors in Berning and Carter Siegel. Berning went 1-for-4 with an RBI and Carter went 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Of the 17 players on the roster, 14 of them are sophomores or freshmen.
“We’ve got something to build on here,” Sturwold said. “We’ll get after it this summer with ACME and Legion ball. There’s a good chance we’ll be back here. … I’m proud of the effort the kids gave me. Never had to get on them one time for effort. They’re disappointed now but the sun will come up tomorrow. There’ll be more baseball to play.
“I hope they win it all. If they get past us more power to them.”
For Russia, Drees went 3-for-3 with two RBI. Sherman went 2-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored. Lavy, Cordonnier and Clay George also had RBIs.
“All of last year we were thinking we could have done it,” Drees said of reaching the regional tournament. “We hang out with a couple of guys from the team last year and they’re always telling us we need to get them this year. We have a lot of pressure on us but we came through.”
Fort Loramie finished with four hits and left nine runners on base, including seven in scoring position. Russia had 10 hits and left seven on base. They also committed four errors to one by Fort Loramie.
“We’re going to make mistakes,” Phlipot said. “These are high school kids and this is the biggest game they’ve ever played in – until Saturday. The team that can relax – it’s fine being nervous – that can calm your nerves and be focused. We’ve played this game all our lives. The fields are getting bigger and the stands are getting fuller. That’s the only difference. Everything else is the same. If we make a big mistake, make one and not two or three.”