Years ago, we “balanced the checkbook” with a calculator and pen or pencil. The entertainer on stage performs a different kind of “balance” when he bounces and then stabilizes a huge pot of heavily watered flowers on his kneecap.
However, the baseball coach might say that his team gains stability and checks all the boxes when it balances and executes every phase of the game and, thus, becomes a consistent winner.
It’s this kind of balance — a timely hitting offense, a superb defense which makes all the routine plays, and effective pitching which limits walks and gets ahead of hitters — that Russia and St. Henry have exhibited much of the season and especially here at tournament time. The two clubs have discovered ways to mix this successful formula in different portions to win virtually the same number of games – Russia, 25, and St. Henry, 24.
For Russia, the defending Division IV state champs, this balance is keyed by outstanding pitching. For St. Henry, the balance is paced by a robust offense. The teams’ lofty win totals are good enough to rank the Redskins fourth in the state and Russia fifth, and also good enough to put the programs on a collision course in the D-IV state semifinals in Akron at 4 p.m. this Thursday.
Berlin Hiland, 28-1 and rated first in D-IV in Ohio, and Tiffin Calvert, 29-2 and ranked third, battle in the nightcap at 7 p.m. The state championship is set for Saturday at 1 p.m.
Only 20 minutes apart and separated by short jaunts along Routes 119, 127, 185, 47 and McGreevey and Versailles roads, St. Henry and Russia will square off for the second time this season over three hours from home at Akron’s Canal Park. Righthanders Devin Delzeith of St. Henry and Xavier Phlipot of Russia are Thursday’s probable starting pitchers.
ScoresBroadcast.com’s lengthy pregame will start on Thursday at 3:20 p.m. with comments from the two head coaches — Kevin Phlipot of Russia and Mike Gast of St. Henry — plus highlights of exciting regional action at Springfield and Wright State.
The Raiders’ unique balance on the field begins with a couple highly efficient hurlers. Primed for the late May and early June tournament run, the combo of senior Phlipot and sophomore Braylon Cordonnier has given up just a single earned run and 14 base hits in 27 of the last 28 innings of pitching.
In nearly 75 innings on the mound this spring, Phlipot and Cordonnier have allowed a total of only ten bases on balls, or less than one per game. The pair has been throwing first pitch strikes 80 percent of the time late in the season.
Back on April 8 at St. Henry, Russia fashioned a strong offense, which has been up and down at times this season. On that day, Cordonnier, Zane Shappie, Jude Counts, Felix Francis and Cooper Unverferth cracked two hits apiece. Russia collected 13; St. Henry, three. Each team stole two bases. On the bump, Counts hurled five innings and beat St. Henry starter Owen Zimmerman. Counts has pitched 17 total innings this season; Zimmerman, ten.
After a swoon in May when the schedule toughened, the Raiders bats are once again warming up. In the district semifinal, Brayden Monnin drilled a two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the seventh to nip Newton, 6-5. Hayden Quinter drove in four with a pair of clutch singles through the infield versus Berne Union and Southeastern in regional outings. Counts clubbed an important sacrifice fly against the Trojans. Cordonnier blasted a 330-foot double in that game, too.
Following an average start to the spring, the Redskins bats have been hefty run producers for the past several weeks. St. Henry finished the regular season and regional tourney with a mark of 12-0 versus Midwest Athletic Conference schools.
The Redskins exploded for eight early runs in the district final against Marion Local. They piled up eight more, including five in the first frame, against Delphos St. John’s in the regional final. They amassed 18 runs in two contests against New Bremen this spring, a dozen versus Coldwater, and a total of 24 in whipping Marion and Delphos in league play.
This season, St. Henry batters have reached base well over 400 times, resulting in 220 runs. The club has stolen 99 bases and works eight walks every seven innings.
Two feisty left-handed hitters, Nolan Kunkler and Hayden Boeckman, top out with batting averages of .364 and .347, respectively. Shortstop Logan Link is hitting at a .352 clip. Elijah Hortsman is right behind at .342.
Russia’s Cordonnier and Monnin have cranked out 23 extra-base hits. Cordonnier’s batting average of .392 leads the team. Monnin has elevated his to .366 and has knocked in 29 runs. Phlipot posts a .337 hitting mark. Felix Francis has upped his average to .333.
The Russia offense will have to deal with St. Henry’s ace on the hill, the junior Delzeith, who has logged 73 innings, thrown over one thousand pitches, and registered an earned run average of 1.1. He is 11-0 on the year.
Delzeith blends four different pitches, including an occasional slider, and pumps his fastball in the low 80 mile-per-hour range. His high quality pitching and the Redskins’ total of nearly eight runs per contest on offense represent an impressive balance.
Each team commits only one error per game, on average. Defensive plays will make a difference on Thursday, for sure. Just ask Southeastern about the magical mitt and great hustle play of Russia third baseman Hayden Quinter in the regional final.
Quinter may have originally called for a towering infield pop up against the Trojans. Pitcher Braylon Cordonnier tried his best to spot the ball in extremely bright sunlight, as well. The middle infielders were back and clearly out of the play.
At first, Quinter tracked the flight of the ball between his bag and the mound. However, a breeze carried the ball in the air all the way across the diamond closer to the feet of first baseman Counts.
In what may have been one of the best ever high school webgems on an infield pop up, Quinter plunged head-first sliding across the Wright State turf and snared the ball an inch before it hit the ground, some 100 feet from where he made his first move. The marvelous effort by Quinter resulted in a fabulous, circus catch that created a massive roar from the crowd that could be heard across the Wright State campus.
The scorekeeper, of course, simply noted in his book a putout by “5,” the third base position. Much more importantly, though, it was a vital out turned in by the Russia defense in a close tournament tilt.
You can say all you want about the significance of pitching arms and the swings at the plate in advance of Thursday’s Russia-St. Henry state semifinal.
A golden glove can be a part of the “balance” that wins big games, too.