VERSAILLES — The banners hanging on the walls of Russia’s Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium are full of district champions. There have been many recent additions by the school’s girls sports programs, including volleyball, which has won district championships the last four years.
There aren’t many programs at the school that haven’t won district titles. Softball was one of them.
Not after Friday evening.
Russia came alive with two outs in the second inning to jump ahead by four runs, and the squad kept hitting and pulled away to a 12-1 victory in seven innings in a Division IV district final at Versailles High School’s field.
The Raiders (23-2) advance to face Mechanicsburg in a regional semifinal, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Wednesday at Stebbins Field in Greenville.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said. “This is my eighth year. You look at that dang banner, and there’s nothing underneath district, nothing. You see all of our other sports and the success. We’ve been waiting for our time.
“We knew the talent on this team and the heart, the drive, and their just loving softball and each other was special. It was our time. I felt it today coming into this game.”
Russia second baseman Kendall Monnin, who’s the team lone senior, said the district title was even more special given that last season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Raiders finished 15-7 in 2019 and were planning to make a long postseason run last year with a little more than half of the squad slated to return.
“Softball has always just been a family bond,” Monnin, who is also a volleyball and basketball standout, said. “It’s different from any other sport I’ve ever played in that every person here cares for you, every coach cares for you. I’m talking to the coaches 24/7 off-season or in-season.
“Every single one of these people here just care about each other. We did it for the person on our left and the person on our right today.”
The Raiders cruised after nailbiters in their first two tournament contests. They avenged a first-round tournament loss in 2019 to Triad by beating the Cardinals 5-4 in eight innings in a sectional final last Thursday, then beat Riverside 6-5 in eight innings in a district semifinal on Tuesday.
Russia racked up 11 hits on Friday and benefited from four errors by Ansonia. Leadoff hitter Simone Puthoff was 3 for 5 with 4 RBIs while No. 2 hitter Reese Goubeaux was 3 for 4 with 5 RBIs. No. 9 hitter Cece Borchers, who drove in the game-winning run against Riverside, was 3 for 4 with 3 RBIs and one double. Monnin was 1 for 2 with one walk.
Their strong hitting came against Ansonia’s Lauren Burns, who held Shelby County Athletic League co-champion Fort Loramie to three hits in a sectional final last Thursday.
“I think it brings a lot of confidence to the girls knowing that we’ve seen all kinds of pitching the last two weeks and we’ve hit, we’ve scored and we’ve got the job done,” Muhlenkamp said. “… We have tons of confidence in each other. These girls believe that the nine-hole can hit, eight-hole can hit and can bunt. The top of the lineup can hit. There’s belief throughout the whole lineup.”
Saige Hoying and Kelby Doseck struck out to start the second, but the Raiders started hitting after Ava Daniel reached on an error after an infield grounder.
Monnin drew a walk, then Borchers hit a 2-RBI double to left field. Puthoff followed with an RBI single, then Goubeaux added an RBI double that landed on the warning track in center field to give Russia a 4-0 lead.
Russia blew it open in the eighth. Doseck walked, Daniel hit a line-drive single to left field and Monnin hit a bunt single to load the bases for Borchers, who hit an RBI single on an outfield grounder.
Puthoff drove in a run on a ground out to push the lead to 6-0, then Goubeaux hit a 2-RBI double to increase the gap to eight runs.
Ansonia scored one run on two hits in the fifth, but Russia added two runs off three hits in the sixth and two runs off three hits in the seventh.
Makena Hoying pitched a complete game for the Raiders. She gave up one earned run on four hits and one walk while striking out seven batters.
Wednesday’s regional semifinal will pit two state-ranked squads against each other. Russia was ranked No. 9 in D-IV in the final state coaches association poll while Mechanicsburg (22-4) was ranked No. 3.
The Indians won the regional two years ago for their first state berth. They have the bulk of their squad back, including junior pitcher Daytayviah Rodgers, who has 0.96 ERA and a .526 batting average.
“It’s a whole other level,” Muhlenkamp said. “We just talked with them that this is fun, but we’ve got to show up the next game too, if not a little bit more, because now you’re playing with the big dogs.
“We’ve just got to show up and not play any different. We can’t play any different now that we’re at this next game. What we’ve been doing has been working for us, so why change now?”
Muhlenkamp said she’s happy the team will get to experience a regional tournament game, especially after last season’s cancellation.
“These girls have been playing together a long time and had a lot of success, especially some of these younger kids, and I think it was a big bummer losing last year,” Muhlenkamp said. “That’s been a big drive this year.”
No. 4-ranked Bradford will face Van Wert Lincolnview in the second semifinal on Wednesday. Lincolnview beat Minster 5-4 on Friday in Wapakoneta to advance.
The semifinal winners will meet in a regional final, which is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Saturday in Greenville.