Junior Hunter Cohee led Russia on the mound and at the plate as the Raiders advanced to the Final Four for the first time in 42 years.
Springfield—Saturday did not start out as a “great day to be a Raider.”
First, a large puddle in left field, left over from Friday night’s storms, delayed the start of the D-IV Regional final between the Raiders and Newark Catholic at Carlton Davidson Stadium for an hour and 9 minutes.
Next, the Green Wave, the recent two-time defending state champion looking for its 17th Final Four appearance, strung together four straight two-out singles off Hunter Cohee in the top of the first to take a 2-0 lead.
After that, yeah, it was a GREAT day to be a Raider!
Cohee got out of jam after jam through the first five innings, helped himself at the plate with a sacrifice fly and rbi double, and retired the last 7 batters he faced to give the Raiders a nail-biting 3-2 win, and their first regional title since 1975.
“I’m incredibly proud of our guys,” said Russia head coach Kevin Phlipot. “This is the ultimate goal, but to actually get here is amazing. We have been through a lot in this tournament. A bad hop against Lehman (a 7-4 win in 10 innings in the sectional finals) and we would have been done a long time ago. Our guys just keep battling and they deserve this,”
Russia got a run back in the bottom of the first. Dylan Cordonnier doubled with one out, took third on a throwing error by the Newark shortstop, then scored on Cohee’s long fly ball to left.
“That run was important to help us relax,” Phlipot agreed. “Just to respond. They didn’t hit the ball that hard in the first, we weren’t worried about it. It just told us that ‘we got this. We can do this’. It was a big run for us.
The Raiders manufactured two runs to take the lead in the third. Cordonnier started things with a two out single up the middle. Newark pitcher Jody Mummy threw wildly to first base on a pick-off attempt, allowing Cordonnier to take second. He then set sail for third, but appeared to be out from here to there before the Newark third baseman misplayed the ball. As both players got up there was a collision, and the umpire immediately called interference and waved Cordonnier home with the tying run.
Drew Sherman then singled, moved up on a wild pitch, and scored the go-ahead run on Cohee’s ringing double to left-field.
“We were down two,” Philpot said, shaking his head. “We were down two yesterday (against Fort Loramie.) These guys don’t get down. It’s not the ideal situation, but we are prepared and we have been there before.”
Cohee kept getting into and then out of, trouble. Newark had runners at first and third with one out in the second, but hit into a unique 5-3-6 double play. They had a runner at second with none out in the third, First and third ith one out in the fourth, first and third with one out in the fifth.
In all, the Green wave left 7 runners on base and 6 were in scoring position. Newark was 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position after the first inning.
“I was having trouble with my curveball early,” Cohee said, explaining his early troubles. “I started locating it better late and it threw them off.
Russia, now 24-6, won the regional title with 3 runs, 7 hits and 2 errors. The Raiders stranded 5 runners. Newark Catholic lost with 2 runs, 10 hits and three costly errors along with 2 big base-running blunders.
The first of those base-running gaffes came in the second. Mason Lohr and Derek Hawk reached on back to back errors with one out. Jody Mummey grounded to third and was thrown out, but Hawk, for some reason, never made it to second base, and was tagged out.
The other goof came in the fifth. Tanner Lake doubled and Noah Fedor singled with one out, but Fedor dozed off while leading off first and was picked off by Cohee, The right-hander then retired the last 7 hitters he faced.
“Hunter battles,” Phlipot explained about his junior right-hander. “He is a competitor. When push comes to shove, he is the guy I want on the mound. He has been through a lot, even though he is just a junior, and I have confidence with him on the mound.”
“We’re going to Columbus,” Cohee said with a grin. “We really thought with our pitching, we had a shot all the way back at the beginning of the season. Everyone is a team player and did what they had to do.
“I was seeing the ball well,” he said about his hitting prowess. “He (Mummey) hung a couple of things and I took advantage of it.”
Phlipot said things went the Raiders way.
“When you get to this level, it’s all about the breaks, who gets them and who makes them, and we did both today. And you have to get your guys to settle down. Sure, the state is at stake, but you have to go out and play baseball to earn that chance. We did that today.
Jack Dapore squeezed the final out setting off a big celebration among the players and the big Russia’s crowd.
“I just thought about all the hard work that we put in,” said Phlipot, a smile covering his face. “Not for me but for the kids. This is a really close group of kids, and they will remember this forever. Seeing their joy and the smiles on their faces, is priceless.”
As for who will get the ball Friday when the Raiders play their first state semi-final in 42 years, the coach was having none of it.
“I’ll tell you Friday,” he said with a grin. I’ll let you know Friday.”
Cohee had the last word.
“This feels great. To be the first in 42 years, it’s a very special honor.”
Indeed, a great day to be a Raider!