FORT LORAMIE — Nearly all of regular season was plagued with weather problems. Precipitation may be a problem again when Fort Loramie takes the field in a Division IV state semifinal on Thursday.
That’s no reason for Fort Loramie fans to worry, though, according to coach Jeff Sanders. He said the team can handle anything — and has proven it many times this year.
The Redskins (25-6) will face Garfield Heights Trinity (22-3) in a state semifinal on Thursday at 10 a.m. at Huntington Park in Columbus — if the remnants of tropical storm Alberto allow.
The storm made landfall in Florida on Monday, and AccuWeather is calling for the remnants to reach most of Ohio on Wednesday afternoon and hang around through Thursday.
It’ll be a fitting end to the season for Fort Loramie and all participants in the state baseball tournament Thursday and Friday. They’ll be spending much of their free time looking at the nearest phone, computer or television for weather forecasts — like they did through March and April.
“We’ll keep an eye on it, but you don’t want to get preoccupied with it,” Sanders, a first-year coach, said. “If there’s going to be a change in the weather, it’s for us coaches to worry about, not the players. …If rain becomes an issue, we’ll make sure the kids are prepared for it.”
Fort Loramie played 10 games in the first 27 days of the season, a period which was plagued with bad weather. The Redskins went 6-4 in that time.
In the last five weeks, the Redskins played 21 games. They’ve went 19-2 over that stretch, with the losses coming to MAC powers St. Henry and Coldwater (a semifinalist in Division III).
Fort Loramie has posted wins in its stretch over the likes of Versailles, Kenton Ridge, Russia and Minster. Russia finished as Div. IV runner-up last year after losing in the championship game to Minster, which Fort Loramie beat in a regional semifinal last week.
The Redskins have played games in rain — and played a game at Riverside in snow in early April. It’s far from the only adverse situation that team has fought through.
They’ve had to rally in each of their last three tournament games, including their regional final against Cincinnati Christian last Friday. Fort Loramie trailed 6-1 and then scored seven consecutive runs to take control.
Sanders said the ability of the players to perform under pressure is one of the reasons they’ll be playing for a state title this weekend. He pointed to the performance of pitcher Mason Kemper and right fielder Devin Wehrman in last Friday’s game as an example.
“I think (playing under pressure) is even more underrated than you’d think,” Sanders said. “… Mason has had some ups and downs. At times, he’s wanted to pitch and bat better, but to come and be the winning pitcher in the regional championship game to send us to state and being able to do that when there’s a tying run at second base, shows maturity. I told him he really grew up (on Friday).
“… We had bases loaded with two outs late in the game against Minster, and their hitter hit a high towering fly ball, and Devin had to run back and make a catch in the sun. If he drops that, we lose that game. Those are just little things that everyone on the team has done to get us here.”
Hitting has helped the Redskins get to Columbus as well. Fort Loramie has a .367 batting average and averages 8.5 runs per game. Infielders CJ Billing, Jared Middendorf, Eli Rosengarten and Nathan Ratermann bat better than .370 and outfielders Wehrman, Dylan Albers and Carter Mescher have batting averages of .400 or better. Billing leads the team with 35 RBIs.
“Hitting has always been a strength that we could identify with, but we don’t want our hitting to be a crutch to bail us out of trouble, either,” Sanders said. “We want to make sure we’re taking care in all phases of the game. Certainly, having a good offense is a nice luxury to have. But you may run into times where your offense may not have a great day, and you need other parts of your game to pick you up and get you through.”
Mescher, the team’s leadoff hitter, leads the team with a .508 average while Albers is batting .417.
Albers, a senior has over 30 RBIs, and Sanders said he’s been a steady hand this year. He was first team all-Shelby County Athletic League and second in player of the year voting to Russia’s Hunter Cohee.
“He secures center field for us,” Sanders said. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen on the field. He’s got a great attitude. He’s everything you’d want to be in a senior leader. There’s times where he may not go 4 for 4 with 8 RBIs like CJ (Billing) has done, but you look at his tournament trail, even when he didn’t get hits, he was getting on base and causing disrupting, being productive in our offense.”
Part of that disruption comes from stealing bases. Albers and Mescher each have about 20 stolen apiece.
“It certainly has changed the dynamics of our offense, to have two guys in our lineup that get on base so much and can steal a base at any time, kick-start our offense almost immediately and put us in a position with runners in scoring position,” Sanders said. “Nothing can swing the momentum your way like the ability to score runs in the first inning.”
Trinity, a Catholic school in suburban Cleveland, has been aided by good pitching this season. The Trojans have a 2.02 team ERA and 167 total strikeouts.
Pitcher Jake Visha, who Sanders expects will start on Thursday, has a 1.20 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 40 innings. Visha is left handed.
“He’s a guy that’s going to be tough to get prepared for, but we’ve been making adjustments in our practices as to how we approach hitting a guy like that,” Sanders said. “We’ll just do everything we can to be ready.”
Sanders said he’s still deciding on who will start for Fort Loramie. Middendorf, Ratermann, Kemper and Billing have ERAs between 1.57 and 2.75 and have combined for 23 wins and over 100 strikeouts.
Trinity has a .337 team batting average. Four players hit better than .400. Clay Anderson leads the team with a .487 batting average and has 30 RBIs.
Fort Loramie has made five state appearances, including in 2007 and 2010, when they won Div. IV titles. It will be Trinity’s second final four trip. The Trojans last made a state semifinal in 1984.
The winner of Thursday’s semifinal will face either Hicksville or Mowrystown Whiteoak in a state final at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Whiteoak and Hicksville will play at 1 p.m. on Thursday in the other Div. IV semifinal.