Baseball: Russia gearing up for tournament


RUSSIA — There’s no doubt who the favorite to get out of Southwest Ohio in Division IV is again this year. Russia was voted the No. 1 seed in the Dayton D-IV sectional and is playing well as regular-season play winds down.

But the Raiders know from their runs to Div. IV state title games the last two years that getting to Akron isn’t easy. They overcame deficits in their last five tournament games on the way to winning the 2022 D-IV title and won several tight games on the way to a runner-up finish last year, including two games in extra innings.

Russia has loaded its regular season schedule with good competition, and the squad has four strong opponents.

“We just have to go out and play the games,” Russia coach Kevin Phlipot said. “We got the No. 1 seed, and it’s the draw the No. 1 seed should get. But we have to play. …We wanted the best part of our schedule at the end of the year to take us right into tournament.”

Russia dominated Botkins 14-2 in a Shelby County Athletic League game on Monday to improve to 17-4 overall and 10-0 in SCAL play. The team can clinch the outright SCAL title with a victory at Fort Loramie (18-4, 9-2) on Thursday; Russia beat the Redskins 5-3 on April 15.

Monday’s victory was the squad’s fifth straight and ninth in its last 10 games. The Raiders lost 10-0 to Coldwater on April 27 but have posted six lopsided wins in the current hot streak, including a 10-2 win at Anna on Thursday.

The Raiders have been consistent on the mound. Jude Counts struck out nine batters in five innings in a 15-0 win over Fort Recovery on Saturday while Maddox Goubeaux and Brayden Monnin (who recently became the program’s career leader in runs scored) combined to give up five hits and struck out five in a 2-1 win in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Monnin pitched two innings in relief of ace Braylon Cordonnier against the Rockets on Thursday; the pair combined gave up three hits and one walk and struck out 14 batters.

Unverferth, Hayden Quinter and Schulze split time on the mound on Monday. Unverferth started and gave up one hit while striking out three batters in two innings, while Quinter pitched two hitless innings and struck out one. Schulze gave up one hit and walked three batters in the fifth, in which the Trojans scored their two runs; Schulze struck out three batters.

Counts, Goubeaux and Ben Rinderle threw no-hitters in three consecutive games late in April.

“We’ve been pretty deep with our pitching staff, and tonight shows the depth of what we have,” Phlipot said. “We had guys who haven’t thrown a whole lot this year, and they did quite well. I’m happy with that.

The Raiders struggled at the plate early in the season but have been hitting better recently. Junior Braylon Cordonnier, who is the team’s pitching ace, was 18 for 20 during a stretch last week.

“Our offense has really gotten going the last week or so,” Phlipot said. “Guys have been hitting the ball hard consistently.

“… Braylon has hit well when they pitch to him; a lot of guys haven’t been pitching a lot to him, so it’s hit or miss if he gets anything to hit. Felix Francis has been just as hot as anybody, and Brayden Monnin has been hitting well. He had a slow start but had a great weekend.”

Russia senior Felix Francis set a program record for single season steals on Monday. He stole two bases after his first plate appearance in the first inning, which gave him 27 on the year.

“He’s great, and he’s hitting .500,” Phlipot said of Francis, who is the team’s leadoff hitter. “Having him in front of Braylon, Brayden and Hayden, it’s a great start for our offense.”

The Raiders are scheduled to travel to Marion Local (13-10) on Tuesday before Thursday’s big game at Fort Loramie. They’re scheduled to host Graham (14-7) on Friday and Piqua (14-9) on Saturday in nonconference games before playing at Botkins (3-15) next Tuesday.

Russia took control in the first inning on Monday. Botkins pitcher Levi Frey walked two batters and hit three with pitches. Monnin hit an RBI single to left on a hard grounder, Unverferth drove in a run on a line drive single to center and Francis drove in two runs on a line drive triple to center.

Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4822, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.

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