VERSAILLES — Grant Saunders pitched a great game against Botkins in a make-up Shelby County Athletic League game on May 13. The Trojans couldn’t hit him 11 days later, either.
Saunders pitched complete game in a Division IV district semifinal on Monday to help the squad defeat the Trojans 6-0 and earn a district final berth. He gave up one hit (a single in the first inning) and struck out 13 batters while walking one.
“That was a dominating performance,” Russia coach Kevin Philpot said. “… That just set the tone. We were able to keep guys off the bases.”
The Raiders (24-5) advance to a district final and will take on Felicity-Franklin, which beat Cincinnati Seven Hills 14-12 in a semifinal on Monday. The game is scheduled to be played at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at New Lebanon Dixie High School.
Saunders pitched a complete game on May 13 and struck out 12 that night while allowing three hits.
Botkins’ Ethan Motter hit a single to center field with two outs in the first. The Trojans continued to make contact in early innings and drove up Saunders’ pitch count early, but he recorded outs quicker and quicker as the game progressed. The Trojans struck out seven times in the last three innings.
“We just didn’t hit again,” Botkins coach Jason Jones said. “Grant Saunders, he’s a hell of a pitcher. We couldn’t handle his velocity. He located his curve ball, which is what we were afraid of.”
Motter moved to second on a balk in the first and Isaac Cisco reached on a dropped third strike, but Saunders struck out Brandt Boerger to end the inning.
Motter walked and Tyler Free was hit by a pitch in the fourth, but neither advanced passed second base.
Those were the only base runners the Trojans had all night.
“You can’t win like that,” Jones said. “… That team is going to go a long way. I could see a Fort Loramie/Russia regional final, for sure.”
Russia took control after four errors by the Trojans in the third inning. Zane Shappie hit a single to right field and moved to second on an error, then Xavier Philpot reached on an error in the infield.
Drew Sherman then hit a grounder that was misplayed along the third-base line, and two runs scored on the same play.
The Raiders pushed their lead to 4-0 by the end of the inning after a 2-RBI single by Jared Poling.
Shappie scored in the fourth after reaching on an error, stealing second, moving to third on a ground out and scoring on a wild pitch. Xavier Philpot drove in one run in the sixth on a double to left field to increase the lead to 6-0.
Parker Geis pitched a complete game for the Trojans. He pitched several innings in relief in the teams’ first SCAL matchup, which Russia won 4-3 in extra innings on April 19.
“He struck a handful of batters and kept us in check for a while before we snuck around on him in the eighth that day,” Philpot said. “… We got a few bunts down today, and they misplayed them. We took advantage of that and got a couple of timely hits. We struck out a couple times with runners on third and once with the bases loaded, which we’ll have to fix. But enough timely hitting today.”
Botkins finishes 14-14 overall. It’s the most wins the squad has had in a season since 2008.
The program will lose three seniors to graduation in Geis, Free and Ethan Motter.
The Trojans won seven total games in 2018 and 2019, and last season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jones credited the group for this year’s improvement.
“To win 14 games this year, I can’t say enough about them,” Jones said. “They brought this program back after being left for dead. They have a lot to be proud of. They’ve left a legacy here. These young guys, they’ll be ready to take over.”
Russia dropped to 9-5 after a 4-0 loss to Fort Loramie on April 22 but has won 15 consecutive games.
“We pitch well,” Philpot said. “We’re pitching well. We just talked (after the game) that as long as we execute, we’ll do well. We like to do the little things.”
Philpot said that will be the key on Wednesday.
“We find ways to win,” Philpot said. “It starts with the strong pitching performance, and then we just have to not beat ourselves. You can’t always wait for the other team to beat themselves, but we play a clean ball game, execute the little things and take advantage of every opportunity. When it comes time to do it and you’ve got to win a big game yourself, someone has to get a big hit. We got enough of them today.”