COLUMBUS — Hicksville was the last to find out. When Fort Loramie was put under pressure this season, it exploded.
The Redskins’ last explosion earned them the Division IV state championship.
After collecting one hit in the first four innings, Fort Loramie scored eight runs on seven hits in the fifth inning to overcome an early deficit and earn an 8-4 win over Hicksville in the Div. IV state final on Saturday at Huntington Park.
The victory earned the program its third state title — all of which have come since 2007. The Redskins’ last title came in 2010.
Hicksville took advantage of three early errors by Fort Loramie to build a 4-0 lead after the fourth inning.
“We had some doubt, but at the same time, we’ve been there and we know how to come back,” CJ Billing said. “We never stop.”
Aces pitcher Park Thiel never stopped Fort Loramie’s hitting in the fifth. Billing, a junior third baseman, hit a single to center field in the fifth to score one run and give the Redskins a 5-4 lead.
Eli Rosengarten hit a double to score two runs and Austin Siegel hit an RBI triple to finish Fort Loramie’s rally, which had the approximately 2,000 Redskins fans in attendance on their feet for most of the inning.
“The crowd was thunderous,” Fort Loramie coach Jeff Sanders said. “I could feel it going through my body. I had my warmup coat on, and I think I could feel it shaking. The crowd was unbelievable. I’ve never seen a Fort Loramie crowd like that.”
The Redskins were under pressure throughout their tournament run but repeatedly answered with thunderous hits at the plate.
Fort Loramie was tied in late innings in its district final and regional semifinal and trailed late in its regional final, state semifinal and state final games. Each time, the Redskins come up with one or a couple big innings late to pull ahead.
“We knew we had to keep going, keep putting the ball in play,” Dylan Albers, who hit an RBI triple on Saturday, said. “Stay with it, don’t give up. We’ve come back from the last four games. It’s not a new position for us, so we knew if kept battling we’d pull out with it.”
Fort Loramie (27-6) rallied through the season. The Redskins lost three consecutive games in April to drop to 6-4. They finished by winning 21 of their last 23 games (one loss was a 1-0 defeat by Coldwater, which lost in the Div. III title game on Saturday).
“It was a lot of adversity,” Rosengarten said. “We started changing our lineups around, stuff like that. Once we found that lineup — which we had today — it worked out from there. We started getting runners on early, and it helped us.”
Sanders, a first-year coach, gave all the credit for the rally to the players for getting used to Thiel and not caving after falling behind early.
“We pull for these kids so much,” Sanders said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be at Fort Loramie — I might still be here in 20 years. I get another chance, I get more chances. These kids, especially the seniors, this is it. It’s so rewarding to see those seniors go out on top like that. They’ve worked their tails off. …I knew they could do it.”
Thiel walked to start the third inning for Hicksville and later scored after a sacrifice bunt, balk and a fly out. Fort Loramie got the game’s first hit in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t get a runner past second.
The Redskins had three errors in the fourth inning, which led to three unearned runs by Hicksville. The Aces scored on a throwing error, a wild pitch and a fielding error.
The Redskins went down in order in the fourth.
“There’s never doubts with our offense,” Sanders said. “With our offense, we never feel like we’re out of the game if we’re down 3-0 or 4-0. We’ve got solid hitters one through nine — we know our eight hitter can get a hit or our nine hitter can.
“Certainly when you’re down 4-0, you feel you’re under a little bit of duress. You’ve got to kind of take a break, recalibrate things, refocus, and have good at-bats and let things happen as they may.”
Siegel — one of the team’s four seniors — started Fort Loramie with a single to right field in the fifth. Devin Wehrman was hit by a pitch, and Shane Hilgefort singled to left field to load the bases.
That brought up the top of the Redskins’ lineup, and leadoff hitter Carter Mescher hit an RBI single to right field. Albers then followed with a triple over Hicksville center fielder Zac Brickel’s head to tie it up 4-4.
“It felt good off the bat,” Albers said. “I wasn’t sure if he was going to catch it or not, but once I saw him start backpedaling, I knew I had it.”
That brought up Billing, who was a hero for Fort Loramie through its tournament run. He had 7 RBIs in a district final win over Tri-County North, 7 RBIs in a regional final win over Cincinnati Christian and batted in the tying run in a state semifinal win over Trinity.
Billing kept the rally going Saturday. After fouling off a pitch and taking a strike, he hit a single to center field to score Albers and give the Redskins the lead.
Nathan Raterman reached on a fielder’s choice, then Rosengarten hit a double to left field to score two runs and push the lead to 7-4. Rosengarten fell behind 1-2 early but fouled off three pitches before hitting a double.
“I was fighting off a lot of tough pitches, and he finally hung a curve ball, and I just smoked it to left field, and the left fielder misplayed it I guess, and it went right over head.
“We weren’t getting ahead in the counts (early) and we had to do that. We were letting him throw his pitches earlier in the game, getting behind in the counts. Once we got ahead in the counts, we were looking fastball. Once we saw those fastballs right down the middle, we started smoking them.”
Siegel hit an RBI triple to right field to score Rosengarten, and Hicksville then switched Thiel for Gage Yoder. Yoder forced two groundouts to end the inning.
Mason Kemper started the game and was removed with one out in Hicksville’s three-run fourth. He allowed one earned run on one hit and had two strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.
Raterman was brought on in the fourth. He allowed three hits with one strikeout in the last 3 1/3 innings. Hicksville got two hits in the sixth and got a walk to load the bases, but Raterman forced a pop out to end the inning.
Raterman struck out Hicksville’s Braden Langham to start the seventh. After Ethan Wilhelm singled to right field, Yoder hit into a double play to end the game.
Fort Loramie’s dugout emptied, and the players formed a pile around Raterman on the mound.
“I started Mason because I thought his delivery is just a little bit different enough,” Sanders said of Kemper. “It’s kind of a unique delivery — he kind of hides the ball. I thought that would keep them off balance enough to get us through the first couple of innings. The plan all along was to bring in through Nathan in at the end.
“… Mason battled. He gets in some ruts where he gets behind batters, but the kid battled. He battled.”
The Redskins had eight hits and three errors, while Hicksville had four hits and one error. Hilgefort and Siegel were each 2 for 3.
Siegel, Albers, Mike Hoying and Nolan Holthaus are the team’s only seniors.
Theil was 2 for 3 for the Aces. Hicksville, which has five state appearances in program history, finishes 21-6.