BRADFORD — Russia was able to keep up with Newton at the plate in a Division IV sectional final on Tuesday at Bradford but had a tougher time keeping up in the field.
The Raiders had four errors that helped Newton build an early lead, and though they rallied late, they couldn’t complete a comeback in a 9-5 loss.
Russia coach Michele Muhlenkamp doesn’t want the team to remember losing the sectional title. Instead, she hopes the players — including six seniors — remember they ways they fought through the game. Like right fielder Kendall Monnin making two diving catches, center fielder Shea Borchers playing through tears due to knee pain and pitcher Grace Saunders playing with a nagging sore throwing hand.
“They’re all just so tough,” Muhlenkamp said. “They’ve got a lot of heart and they bleed blue and gold and would do anything for their teammates.
“…Grace told me old week, ‘I’m fine, Coach, I’m fine, don’t even ask me about (my hand).’ Shea was the same way tonight. She wanted to run, we weren’t going to let her. She’s sitting in there and the trainer has her all taped up, and she said, ‘Cut this off, I’m playing.’ … Kendall Monnin, I haven’t seen her play that tough of outfield all year. It just shows how much she’s grown.”
Russia, which finishes 17-9 overall, won the Shelby County Athletic League title for the third consecutive season. The No. 6 seed Raiders won at least 17 games in each of the last three years and have a 55-26 overall record in that time. The team’s six seniors — which includes Saunders — helped lead the success.
“I think what I’ll remember most is the legacy they left behind for the younger generation,” Muhlenkamp said. “We had (low) numbers in softball, but these girls have made softball a fun team to be a part of. We always call it a softball family. They’ve definitely made that be the legacy here — a family. You play for each other, for the person next to you, and not for yourself. I think they started that.”
Both squads had 14 hits, but Newton (18-8) was able to take advantage of a few errors to build a big lead.
“We both hit the ball really well, and beside (the errors), Newton’s hits were really hard hits, which I think kind of made a little bit of a difference,” Muhlenkamp said.
Lexi and Lauren Monnin led off Russia with bunt singles in the top of the first inning, then Claudia Counts followed two batters later on an RBI single by Claudia Counts. The Raiders couldn’t get any more runs — their last two outs came when the Indians threw out runners at home plate.
Newton scored one run after two fielding errors by Russia with two outs in the bottom half of the first.
Marissa Deeter opened the third for Newton with a single. Mallory Dunlevy followed with a single to center field, and a throwing error after the ball was fielded allowed Deeter to score. Kylee Fisher then hit a one-run double to put the Indians up 3-1.
Jenna Cordonnier knocked in a run on a single to center field in the top of the fourth, but Newton scored three runs on three hits — including a 2-RBI triple by Dunlevy — to take a 6-2 lead.
The Raiders got one runs on two hits in the fifth, then the Indians got one run on two hits in the bottom half to take a 7-3 lead.
Newton put Erin Norman in at pitcher in the sixth for starter Kirsten Rappold, who allowed 10 hits and three earned runs with two strikeouts in five innings.
Norman struck out Katelyn and Kendal Monnin to open the sixth, and Lexi Monnin hit into a ground out.
“There was a little bit type of spin that was happening (with Norman),” Muhlenkamp said. “It took us (a few batters), and we had some of our young kids up seeing that at first, and I think that’s something they still have to learn, going from one pitcher to another that has a little bit different spin.”
Kylee Fisher hit a solo home run to center field with two outs in the sixth, then Maddi Weaver followed two batters later with an RBI double to center field to push the lead to six runs.
Russia didn’t go down easily in the seventh. Lauren Monnin led off the inning with an infield bunt single, then Kylee Sherman reached on an infield single. The Indians then walked Saunders to load the bases for Claudia Counts, who pitcher Erin Norman was able to strike out with off-speed pitches.
Borchers hit a fielder’s choice grounder that scored a run, and Cordonnier followed with a single to left field to bring the Raiders within 9-5. Katelyn Monnin then hit a ground ball to short stop, but a baserunner’s interference call resulted in the final out.
“They had some fight there at the end,” Muhlenkamp said of the team. “I told them, ‘real believe, just don’t fake believe.’ We had a long ways to go, and I think they did. They had real belief.”
Lauren Monnin was 4 for 4 with three runs to lead Russia. Counts was 3 for 4 with an RBI, Cordonnier was 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs and Borchers was 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Saunders pitched a complete game for Russia. She allowed six earned runs.
Dunlevy was 2 for 4 with two triples and 3 RBIs for Newton while Fisher was 2 for 3 with a double, a home run and 3 RBIs and Ashlyn Deeter was 3 for 3 with a triple and an RBI.
Newton, the No. 1 seed in the Sidney Div. IV sectional, advances to face Fayetteville Perry in a district final either Friday or Saturday at a site to be determined.