VERSAILLES — After blowout wins in its first two tournament games, Fort Loramie got a reminder on Wednesday that postseason wins don’t always come easy. Coach Jeff Sanders says it was perfect timing before the squad tries to win a regional title and state berth next week.
Fort Loramie took a comfortable early lead, but Troy Christian battled back in a Division IV district final at Versailles High School’s field. The Redskins got out of a dangerous situation in the sixth, added an insurance run in the top of the seventh and put the Eagles down in order in the bottom half to earn a 6-4 victory.
It’s the first district title for the team since 2018, when it went on to win the Div. IV state title. The squad lost in a district semifinal in 2019 and didn’t get a chance to win one last year due to COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of spring sports.
“It feels like a long time ago since we’ve been here, but in some respects, it’s not that long ago,” Sanders said. “Losing a season did stink, but these guys worked their tails off in the offseason. They played a lot of summer baseball last year.”
The Redskins (26-3) advance to face the winner of Cincinnati Christian and Cedarville in a D-IV regional semifinal, which is scheduled for next Thursday at Cincinnati Princeton High School.
Cincinnati Christian and Cedarville’s district final matchup was postponed to this Thursday due to rainy weather further to the south, which also forced the postponement of Russia’s district final matchup against Felicity-Franklin to Thursday.
“From here on out, every game is going to be an absolute beast,” Sanders said. “We played a tough schedule (in regular season), and that’s why you play a tough schedule, to prepare yourself. You’ve got to play your best.”
Fort Loramie built a 3-0 lead and led 5-2 heading into the sixth. The Eagles threatened to take the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
Camden Koukol led off the inning with a single to center field. Fort Loramie relief pitcher Derek Meyer then walked Adam Twiss, and Charlie Knostman followed with a ground ball and reached on an error.
Paul McDonald hit a hard line drive that Clint Hilgefort caught at third base for the first out, but Connor Frye then hit a ground ball single back to Meyer to score one run and cut the gap to 5-3.
Gavin Blore followed with a fly ball to center field that landed on the warning track, bounced and hit off the fence. Trevor Middendorf quickly arrived and launched a throw to the infield to ensure only one run scored, allowing the Redskins to maintain a 5-4 lead.
Ben Major hit a fly out to shallow right field for the second out, and Owen Pleiman quickly threw the ball in to ensure no runners could advance. The inning then ended on a controversial call.
Lucas Day hit a grounder toward first baseman Mack Fortman, who dropped the ball after initially fielding the hit. The ball bounced forward and Fortman dove to recover it. He then turned and dove back toward first as Day neared, and both nearly simultaneously reached the base.
Major was called out. In regards to the crowd in attendance, whether the call was good or not depended on which team spectators were a fan of.
What all can be sure of is that it was a monumental effort by Fortman, who initially looked in deep trouble after the initial trouble fielding it. Fort Loramie fielders continually made such efforts on Wednesday, coming up with big defensive plays after miscues or errors.
“With every mistake, we came up with a play that offset it,” Sanders said. “Mack made a great play there to smother the ball and get him out at first. We made a great play right before that on a potential sac fly to get the ball in.
“We were able to do great damage control, and I’m pleased with that. It never snowballed into something worse.”
The Redskins regained the momentum in the top of the seventh.
Logan Eilerman led off the inning with a single to center field. After the next two batters hit into routine outs, Fortman drew a walk. Evan Eilerman then hit a single to left field, and Logan Eilerman raced home from second base.
“That was a big moment, getting that run,” Sanders said. “That took some pressure off us defensively. That’s how we won the game, was scrapping runs here and there. Getting a runner on, stealing a base and getting a bloop hit.”
Logan Eilerman pitched the seventh and retired Troy Christian in order, including striking out Koukol for the second out.
The Redskins accumulated 11 hits against Frye, who pitched a complete game and gave up two walks and struck out two batters. Sanders said he thought the squad could have gotten more.
“I thought it was one of our worst hitting performances of the year,” Sanders said. “They were prepared. They came at us. They were ready to play. They threw a guy that threw a lot of off speed, and we did not make adjustments like I thought we were going to make.
“We practice that. We know that some teams are going to throw a lot of guys that throw off speed. I’m disappointed that we didn’t make adjustments at the plate. We got timely hits and we got runs when we needed to, but overall, the hitting was pretty disappointing today.”
Caeleb Meyer hit a line-drive single with two outs in the first and Grant Albers then drew a walk. Devin Ratermann then drove both of them in on a hard ground ball to left field to give Fort Loramie a 2-0 lead.
Fortman pushed the lead to 3-0 on a sacrifice ground out in the third, but the Eagles pulled close in the bottom of the inning.
Fortman pitched the first two innings and gave up a double to McDonald on the second pitch of the third. Sanders then removed him and replaced him with Meyer. Fortman allowed three hits and one walk in his two innings of work.
“His stuff was fine, when I was seeing him fall behind hitters early, that worried me, especially against a team that’s as aggressive as these guys,” Sanders said. “Falling behind batters, you can usually skate and do that so long before that catches up with you.
Derek Meyer pitched the next four innings and gave up one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out three batters. Fortman was charged with one earned run in the third.
McDonald scored in the third after Major reached on a fielding error in the infield after a grounder. Meyer walked the bases loaded and then hit Koukol to score a second runner and narrow the gap to 3-2, but he coaxed a fly out by Adam Twiss to end the inning.
The Redskins took a 5-2 lead in the top of the fourth. Caeleb Meyer led off the inning with a single to left field and stole second, then Ratermann reached on an error two batters later and Meyer scored. Derek Meyer hit an RBI single to center field two batters later.
Troy Christian finishes 21-7 overall.