TROY — Fort Loramie’s schedule has been loaded with quality competition this season, which has put the team in tight situations many times.
When Tri-County North rallied to tie a Division IV district final on Friday at Duke Park in Troy, the Redskins didn’t panic. Instead, they responded with their biggest inning of the game to take control.
Fort Loramie scored five runs in the fifth to run away in an 11-7 victory, which clinched the program’s second consecutive district title. The Redskins (23-6) advance to face either Minster or Crestview in a regional semifinal next Thursday in Springfield.
Tri-County North scored four runs on four hits in the fifth to tie the game 5-5. The Redskins responded with a barrage of outfield hits in the bottom half of the inning and amassed five runs to go up 10-5. The Panthers scored two runs in the seventh to pull within four, but Fort Loramie prevented further damage.
“This group is a special group — they are resilient,” Fort Loramie coach Jeff Sanders said. “There’s no quit in this team. …I knew we were going to score some runs. They just put good swings on the ball and didn’t try to do too much.”
It didn’t take long in the fifth for the Redskins to score.
Devin Wehrman opened the inning with a one-out single to center field. Shane Higlefort then hit a single on a ground ball to center field, and the Panthers brought in Phillip Lockwood to pitch in place of starter Collin Whipp.
The Redskins hit against Lockwood right away. Leadoff hitter Carter Mescher hit a double to left field to score a run, then Dylan Albers was hit by a pitch.
CJ Billing, who was Fort Loramie’s starting pitcher, hit a double to deep left center field that scored three runs. Nathan Ratermann hit a two-out single to center field two batters later to score Billing and put Fort Loramie up 10-5.
Billing had a huge game — he was 4 for 5 with 7 RBIs.
“I was just staying relaxed, got some fast balls and some curve balls too,” Billing said.
Billing allowed three earned runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings on the mound. He had six strikeouts.
“He’s had some of the most clutch hits of anybody on the team,” Sanders said of Billing. “… Sometimes, (as a team), we went through phases this year where we couldn’t throw strikes. I felt that once we got the lead, our pitchers threw strikes and we were able to make the plays in the field.
“We did make a couple of mistakes in the field, but as long as you keep throwing strikes and let your defense works and you don’t put extra runners on base, you’ll be okay.”
The Redskins dropped to 6-4 after a three-game losing streak in mid-April but responded by winning 13 out of their next 14 — including an 11-1 win over Minster in Fort Loramie’s annual invitational.
Aside from not throwing strikes, the Redskins’ bats went cold for stretches early on. They’ve hit well recently and have averaged seven runs a game in May.
Friday’s win was the most runs Fort Loramie has scored in tournament play so far. The Redskins, which had 16 hits Friday, beat Ansonia 3-0 and Triad 6-1 in sectional play.
“The guys have really understood having a great approach to their at-bat,” Sanders said. “Early in the season, we were a little tentative, maybe waiting on something to happen. As the season has went on, the hitters have recognized what is their pitch and what is not their pitch. They’re really taking a much better approach to their at-bats — every one of them.”
The Redskins have won nine of their last 10, with the lone loss coming to Division III district finalist Coldwater last Saturday.
“We’re all just playing together, playing as a team,” Billing said.
The Redskins jumped out early over Tri-County North (13-7).
Billing drove a run on a sacrifice flyout in the first inning. The Redskins took a 2-0 lead in the second when Higlefort hit an RBI-single to center field in the second.
Billing drove in a run on a single to center field in the third, but Tri-County North pulled within 3-1 in the second when Wyatt Hutchins hit an RBI single to left field. Billing drove in a run on a two-out single to center field in the fourth and Nathan Ratermann followed two batters later with an RBI-single to right field.
The Panthers pulled close in the fifth. Dylan Curtin hit a double to left field, Clayton Whipp reached on an error and Collin Whipp hit an RBI-single to center field to cut the lead to 5-2.
The Redskins brought on Eli Rosengarten to pitch, and he struck out Liam Downing to quickly get an out. Chandler Sproles hit a 2-RBI double to left field and Wyatt Hutchins hit an RBI-single to center field to tie things up.
Fort Loramie brought in Ratermann to pitch, and he forced Jacob Isaacs into an infield groundout. He retired the Panthers in order in the sixth and allowed two runs on two hits in the seventh.
Billing finished his big night in the sixth with an RBI single to left field.
“He’s a great example of a kid who’s really adjusted his approach to the plate,” Sanders said of Billing. “He doesn’t try to hit a home run or try to hit a ball to the fence. I’ve tried to reinforce to him that if you put a good swing on the ball, the ball will go. He’s taken that to heart. I think he’s really focused on putting a good hit on it and not yank it. The ball just comes off his bat, and it’s beautiful.”
The Redskins, which lost to Russia in a regional semifinal last year, will take on Minster or Crestview at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield at 5 p.m. next Thursday.
Sanders and Billing said whoever the Redskins face will be a tough open. A game against the Wildcats would be a season rubber match, though. Minster, the defending Div. IV state champions, beat Fort Loramie 6-2 on April 7.
“It’s always special playing them, but whoever it is, we’ve just got to show up and play,” Billing said.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.