Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.


There are not so many as what you have in football, but the baseball people out there are already writing to ask if two Division IV teams ten miles apart could win the state tournament, and how?

I smiled when I got up Sunday morning to find a dozen texts on my phone from baseball people across southeast, northeast, and central Ohio.

Granted, there’s not as many of them as there is in football come November, when the same regions write to the website asking if Marion Local and Coldwater can possibly win another title in football.  “Are they as good as usual?”  is the question.

But to the baseball geek, like me, there no less fervor now…just because we’re talking about a non-revenue sport and the bleachers might seat a hundred, and not ten thousand.

We get the questions because they know that no other site as this one features high school baseball more throughout the year – or college baseball, for that matter.  “You know anyone that could scout so-and-so?” some will ask.  Or, “Have you seen so-and-so play?”  Or in the case of Sunday morning, May 28th…”You’ve written about Minster and Russia all spring.  Can either of them win the Division IV title, and how?”

MinsterBank.comWell, the simple answer to that is…yes!  Gawd almighty, go back five years and consider that Mike Wiss and the Minster Wildcats have already won a pair of titles, and did it back-t0-back, when they had Adam Niemeyer, Doug Huber, and Ethan Wolf…in 2011 and 2012.

And while Russia has been to the state tournament in better than four decades, they proved two things Saturday in their regional final win over perennial champion Newark Catholic.  They have arms;  and they’re not intimidated by someone’s resume’.  Just win, baby, is what Al Davis (the Oakland Raiders) used to say, and that’s all Russia has done for the past two weeks.

And yes, the best part of all is…that Minster and Russia COULD meet next Saturday for the Division IV crown if they get through their respective semi-final matchups on Saturday.  AND…it could happen!

Here’s why.

Both teams, as I wrote about a month ago concerning Fort Recovery and Minster (at that time) have competent 1-2 options with their starting pitching.  Minster, of course, has Aaron Ernst and Jack Heitbrink, and both have proven they can throw strikes when it matters most.

Mike Wiss has been there three times, and won twice.  "If you pitch and play defense, and make the most of the base runners you get, you can win,"  he says.

Mike Wiss has been there three times, and won twice. “If you pitch and play defense, and make the most of the base runners you get, you can win,” he says.

Russia, too, has a good tandem with Hunter Cohee and Jack Dapore, which on the typical scout’s agenda may actually throw harder as a pair than Ernst and Heitbrink.  And Dapore not only gets it up there to home plate, he has that funky deceptive delivery that most prep kids never see and in a one-and-done scenario (with a lot of nerves thrown in) that’s a big advantage.

Neither of these teams hit like the ’75 Reds, but both are schooled to make contact – to put the ball in play.  Jim Hardman used to tell us at Piqua…”Just make the other team make more plays than you, defensively, and they may give you the game with an error.”  He was right.

Where I’ve always liked Minster is for their ability to catch the ball and make plays .  Show me a team that’s strong at shortstop and second base and I’ll show you a team with a DECIDED advantage.  And so far Minster has had that with Bryce Schmiesing and Alex Lemkuhl in the middle of the infield.  They’ve yelled “get the gloves out” for years at Minster, and it’s won them a lot of games.

I’m not sure that Russia is as good defensively, overall, but when I’ve seen them they make the basic plays.  And with Kevin Phlipot having coached all those years with Bill Sturwold at Loramie, I know he knows the importance of not giving away extra outs.  I’m sure they can take care of business, especially on a field where there are no bad hops, and Huntington Park is recognized as one of the best baseball fields in America – even major league baseball.

meyer_scal_embedBut the #1 thing I’m telling people about Minster and Russia is this.  Until you play a league schedule in the MAC, or Shelby County League, in anything, you cannot imagine the “competitive” advantage they have in everything they do…even backgammon.

If you can come through teams like Versailles, St. Henry, Coldwater, Fort Recovery, Parkway and St. John in the MAC – if you can play round-robin with Anna and Loramie in the SCL – and come out standing, there’s few experiences like that in the other regions in Ohio.  I know, because I grew up in southeast Ohio with teams like Portsmouth, Wheelersburg and Ironton, where coaches sit around all year and plot about how to beat each other.  It’s like that for Minster and Russia, too.

But in the end…baseball’s a simple game.  Throw strikes, catch it and throw it accurately.  Get a few guys on base, get ’em over, and get ’em in.  You do that and you’re dangerous.  It ain’t football, where it’s option or spread, full-house or single wing.  It ain’t basketball, where it’s zone or man-to-man.

It’s just throw strikes and catch it, and act like you’ve done it before.  And while Russia hasn’t been there in 42 years, that one time they were there ol’ Ron ‘what’s-his-name’ (Schulze) had a crazy day and led the Raiders to their only state championship in 1971.  Anything can happen.  It usually does.

That’s all you need to know about Minster and Russia!

Both teams hit enough, but Minster's ability to make the play defensively has made them tough to beat.

Both teams hit enough, but Minster’s ability to make the play defensively has made them tough to beat.

“The Spot” is proud to be the official sponsor of the 2017 OHSAA State Tournaments on Pros

“The Spot” is proud to be the official sponsor of the 2017 OHSAA State Tournaments on Pros