RUSSIA — Fort Loramie was able to come up with some hard hits against Russia pitcher Grace Saunders in a Shelby County Athletic League game on Saturday — including one in the seventh inning that struck Saunders on her pitching hand.
Saunders fought back tears after getting hit and fought through two runs by the Redskins in extra innings. With the game on the line in the ninth, she blasted a gland slam to center field to lift Russia to a 9-6 win over the Redskins.
Few could have drawn up a more fitting ending for Russia’s senior day. The Raiders have won the SCAL title three years in a row and have won 29 consecutive conference games.
Saunders, one of the team’s six seniors, has been a big part of that success. She shared pitching duties as a sophomore and has been the team’s starter the last two years. She’s also the cleanup hitter.
“It’s beautiful,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said of the win. “I just kept telling them (after the game) to feel this moment. It’s the most amazing feeling. When (Saunders) got hit, it didn’t matter — she wasn’t coming out. Her hand could have fallen off, but she wasn’t coming out.”
Saunders was hit on her right hand in a game against Indian Lake in the Houston Showcase on May 4.
“It was already kind of sore, but it was absolutely worth it,” Saunders said. “I would do whatever I had to to play a full game on this field. I’m wrapping my season up and I would rather fight through that than sit out a game any day.”
Russia out-hit Fort Loramie 10-6 but was hurt by six fielding errors, including two in extra innings.
“We went over mountains that game,” Muhlenkamp said. “That obviously was not our best defensive game, but we didn’t let it stop us. We kept pushing, kept pushing. We didn’t it affect us when they scored. We answered. They never gave up; they fought the entire time. These girls, I’m so proud of them. They’re an amazing group, and their fight is there.”
The squads were tied 3-3 heading into the sixth. Clara Gephart led off the inning for Fort Loramie with a line-drive double to center field and scored after two consecutive infield groundouts. Senior Claudia Counts led off the seventh for Russia with a solo home run to right field to tie it 4-4.
Saunders was struck in the seventh inning but retired the Redskins in order.
“That kind of poked the bear for us a little bit,” Muhlenkamp said. “We were doing it for her and for each other. We were just believing that we were going to get it done for our girl in the circle and our seniors.”
The Raiders went down in order in the bottom half of the seventh. Macy Imwalle led off the eighth with a solo home run to center field for Fort Loramie, but Russia tied it in the bottom half of the inning when Jenna Cordonnier hit a one-run double to center field.
Katelyn DeLoye led off the ninth with a double for Fort Loramie and later scored after a fielding error by Russia. The Redskins never got an out in the bottom half, though.
Three seniors loaded the bases for Saunders. Lexi Monnin led off the inning for Russia with a line-drive double to right field. Lauren Monnin then walked, and Kylee Sherman reached first base on an infield bunt.
Saunders hit the first pitch of her at-bat over the fence.
“It was outside, honestly right where I wanted it,” Saunders said of the pitch. “… It was my dream pitch. Beating Loramie always feels good, but this was a perfect way to end it.”
Before Russia’s current string of league titles, the program had won the conference one time. Muhlenkamp, who is in her fifth year, credited the team’s seniors for helping to change the culture of the program.
“They’re on fire,” Muhlenkamp said. “They’re believing in themselves, and I’m just so proud of each and every one of them.”
Saunders said the senior group wanted to help elevate the program.
“This is a huge thing for not our team but younger generations,” Saunders said. “We’re just trying to get them ready to come to high school, so just by coming out and getting League like this, it just inspires those other girls to get where they need to be.”
The Raiders will now try to get something the program has never had before: a sectional title. Russia will face Newton in a Division IV sectional final on Tuesday in Bradford.
The schools played in a showcase at Newton in April. The Indians won 2-1.
“They’re going to put the ball in play,” Muhlenkamp said. “They’re going to try to manufacture runs any way they can. We just have to have a good, focused practice on Monday. We’ve just got to come back down off the mountain a little bit and re-focus. Winning a sectional title would be history for these girls, and they can do it.”
Russia (17-8) finished SCAL play 12-0 overall. Anna (15-7) finished second with a 9-3 record while Houston (12-11) was third at 8-4 and Fort Loramie (14-14) was fourth at 7-5.
Counts was 2 for 4 for Russia with a pair of home runs. Cordonnier finished 2 for 4.
Saunders allowed two earned runs in nine innings and had 11 strikeouts.
Heather Eilerman was 2 for 4 for Fort Loramie.
Aleah Frilling was charged with the loss for the Redskins. She pitched eight innings and allowed eight earned runs. She had nine strikeouts.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.
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