Baseball: Russia counting on state experience against Berlin Hiland


By Jack Kramer
For the Sidney Daily News

Russia’s “state” experience on the baseball diamond and in other sports may be the “X” factor in Akron on Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Raiders (27-4) battle Berlin Hiland (25-5) in a Division-IV state semfinal.

This “X” factor can be described as advanced on-the-field presence by a player or players who, as a result of repeated practice over a lengthy span of time, consistently make the key decisions and convert the game-winning plays. Of course, such success can help extend a team’s postseason run. The Raiders highly athletic senior class has proven that.

Without question, the Russia “X” factor that challenges Hiland might be huge.

Would you believe that participation in a whopping 45 state tournaments in various sports, including baseball and basketball, has been recorded by the 13 members of the Russia baseball team?

Senior Brayden Monnin, senior Felix Francis and junior Braylon Cordonnier have each taken part in six, elite, “state-level” tournaments or competitions. Senior Hayden Quinter has competed in five. Zeb Schulze and Micah Grieshop— four each. Others have participated in one, two or three state-level events.

Head coach Kevin Phlipot often highlights the major value of the many games of state tournament pressure in which his players have competed.

Two years ago, Russia trailed in its last five baseball tournament tilts, but rallied to win them all, including a 4-3 state semifinal victory over Newark Catholic, which had jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

Credit persistence, resilience and… experience.

Last June, in the state semifinal, Russia edged St. Henry, 1-0, after the Redskins two-on, none-out rally was throttled by an experienced Russia defense in the sixth. Monnin speared a high chopper at second and threw a strike to catcher Cooper Unverferth at the plate for a critical tag out.

Then, Russia senior Xavier Phlipot punched a two-out single to right field in the eighth to break the scoreless tie and lift the Raiders to the thrilling triumph.

Credit play after play, in the clutch, from Russia athletes, who would be quick to tell you that “that one state is not their first rodeo.”

Right after Russia’s defeat of the Redskins, Berlin Hiland benefited from a Tiffin Calvert ‘final out catch’ in right field that was ruled “safe” by a field umpire who didn’t turn around soon enough to view the entire play. The defensive player actually lost the ball after removing it from the glove as he began to raise his arms to celebrate a 1-0 victory.

Hiland then capitalized by quickly tying up the game and winning it with three in extras.

Fortuitous? Yes, very. But skillful and talented enough to rise to the occasion and steal the game? Without a doubt!

Just ask Strasburg-Franklin which led Hiland, 5-3, in this year’s district final. Hiland struck for a two-out, sixth inning grand slam by experienced senior Cody Yoder to deliver the knockout blow.

Chris Dages, Hiland’s head coach, had to replace only five from last spring’s roster. He, too, has a wealth of experienced players who have logged 450 to 600 innings of action on the diamond. The Hiland roster spans 22, including 15 juniors and seniors with starting assignments under their belts during their careers.

Cody Yoder is pasting the ball at a .478 clip and Colin Coblentz is swinging at a .402 pace. Caden Coblentz is at .369; Brady Yoder is right behind at .363. Connor Beachy and Grady Monigold are both posting .333 marks at the plate.

Pitcher Finn Schneider, 6-1 on the season, has an earned run average of 1.88. Caden Coblentz, 8-1, has whiffed 64 in 47 innings.

The Raiders stats rival Hiland’s. Cordonnier is hitting just under. 500 with 22 extra base hits on the season. Francis is ripping the ball at a .442 mark. Zeb Schulze and Monnin are close to .400.

Cordonnier‘s arm has notched an ERA of 1.09 to lead the Russia hurlers. Monnin and Jude Counts have produced earned run averages of 1.7.

The two teams’ batting averages are only nine or ten points apart. Each squad runs like the wind and has generated base-stealing success of 93 to 94 percent. The clubs go down on strikes at the plate only four or five times per game, on average.

The Raiders hope to take home the top prize for the second year in the last three and avenge a 14-4 drubbing at the hands of Hiland last June in the title match. Hiland seeks a repeat.

This past March’s Prep Baseball Report previewed Ohio D-IV schools and termed Russia and Berlin Hiland as “Final Four programs” again in 2024.

PBR cited Hiland’s big advantages on the diamond as leadership, pitching and what should be a “fast developing offensive attack.”

It cited Russia’s strength in recent years as experience, as in “big game” experience— like the fall state tournaments in golf and cross country, the March hoops Final Four at UD, and the June baseball event at Canal Park in Akron.

PBR was spot on.

The Russia/Hiland winner will meet the winner of Saturday’s first D-IV semifinal between Fort Recovery and Jeromesville Hillsdale for the state championship at 7 p.m. on Sunday.


What: Russia vs. Berlin Hiland

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Canal Park, Akron




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