RUSSIA — After losing to Anna in its second Shelby County Athletic League game of the season, Russia’s chances of earning its fourth consecutive conference championship looked small.
The Raiders had a young squad, while Anna, Houston and Fort Loramie all had equal or more experience and strong hitting.
Would there be another title celebration on the field in mid-May as the previous three years?
“I don’t know if I 100 percent imagined it,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said.
Senior pitcher Morgan Wenrick put it more bluntluy: “No one expected us to do it.”
But the Raiders did.
Russia wrapped up its fourth consecutive SCAL title with a dominating 15-2 victory in five innings over second-place Houston on Saturday. It was the 10th consecutive league victory for the Raiders, which finish 15-7 overall and 11-1 in SCAL play.
The 9-5 loss to Anna on April 1 was the Raiders’ first SCAL defeat in three seasons and dropped the squad to 1-2 overall. They dropped to 5-4 after a 22-7 loss to Fort Recovery on April 12 but won 10 of their last 13 games, including five of their last six.
“What I love about these girls is they didn’t let that (Anna) game or that (slow) start define us at all,” Muhlenkamp said. “We had a lot of pressure at the start (of the season) because we had that roll going of all those (SCAL) wins in a row.
“But I think once we got that monkey off our back, they were like, ‘Let’s just play out there with all of our hearts and see what happens.’ I think we shocked a lot of people this season.”
Russia lost several key players off last year’s season, including three first team all-SCAL selections. Among the departed players was SCAL player of the year Grace Saunders, who had started in the pitching circle for much of the previous three seasons.
It was an open question for much of the offseason as to who would pitch for the squad. Wenrick emerged as one of the team’s top two pitchers, with the other being freshman Sophie Francis.
“The two of them worked really well together,” Muhlenkamp said. “I think if we only had one, we wouldn’t have had the season we had this year. I think having both was key. I’m really proud of both of them. I think Sophie grew a lot this season and Mo helped her to a be able to that. They both had a lot of fun, which is what we’re all about.”
Wenrick, who hadn’t played softball since her eighth grade year before this season, pitched a complete game on Saturday and limited Houston to five hits. She struck out two batters and gave up one walk.
“It was definitely huge difference (from middle school), and I’m mad at myself for not doing it all four years,” Wenrick said. “It was awesome. I loved being able to pitch and get it done for the team sometimes.”
Saturday’s postgame celebration in the outfield erased any bad feelings over an 11-0 sectional tournament loss to Triad on Friday. Russia managed one hit in that run-rule loss against Triad pitcher Joni Russell, who struck out seven batters.
“We definitely had to regroup after last night,” Wenrick, who plans to attend Bowling Green for college, said. “She was probably the fastest pitcher we’d seen all year. We needed to figure out what we needed to do to get it done today, but we did and we hit well.”
Hitting was a key part of Russia’s success. Saturday’s win was the 11th time the squad scored 10 or more runs in a game.
“Our hitting was the key to a lot of our success this year,” Russia senior shortstop Jenna Cordonnier said. “It kept us in a lot of games. Everyone was hitting up and down the lineup.”
The Raiders also improved defensively after having a couple of early error-filled games. Cordonnier, who was in her first season playing at shortstop after previously playing second base, said more experience was needed.
“You just tell yourself that everyone makes errors, and you just have to come right back from it,” Cordonnier said. “We concentrated on our defense a lot in practice and we just improved greatly.”
Houston, which lost to Ansonia in a sectional tournament game on Friday, dropped to 12-11 overall and 9-2 in league play with Saturday’s loss. The Wildcats’ only other league loss was a 17-10 defeat to Russia on April 15.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Houston coach Brent New said. “I wish we could be more consistent because I know they’re better than this. It’s frustrating, but that’s the game sometimes.”
Russia took control with three runs in the first inning.
Leadoff hitter Olivia Moorman was hit by a pitch, then Cordonnier hit a single to center field. Riley Hammonds flied out center field, but Shea Borchers then reached on an error and Kennedie Goubeaux hit a sacrifice groundout to score one run. Wenrick then reached first on another fielding error by Houston, during which time two runs scored.
The Raiders then ran away by building their lead to 11-0 in the second after scoring eight runs on seven hits. Cordonnier hit an RBI single to center in the inning while Hammonds hit a 3 RBI double that landed just fair along the left-field line. Kendall Monnin added a 2 RBI double in the inning while Ava Daniel and Moorman hit RBI singles.
“That was good that we were hitting their pitcher right away and were hitting the ball hard,” Cordonnier said. “That’s what got us that win.”
Houston pulled within 11-2 in the third after Megan Maier and Allisen Foster hit RBI singles. Russia added one run on two hits in the third and then added three more runs on three hits in the fourth.
“It seemed like every bad situation happened to us today,” New said. “(Russia) hit well and put it everywhere we weren’t, and we just didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Foster was charged with the loss in the circle. She pitched 1 2/3 inning and allowed eight earned runs on eight hits and one walk.
Aside from Cordonnier and Wenrick, Russia will also lose Goubeaux, Savannah Albers and center fielder Shea Borchers.
“Shea in the outfield will definitely be missed,” Muhlenkamp said. “She’s a beautiful outfielder. She just brings great energy every day. We talked about Jenna’s growth as an athlete after today’s game. We used to call her ‘grandma’ and now she’s our stud shortstop.
“Savannah, the energy she brings, I’ll never forget. Kennedie could only give us one season on the field, but what she gave us as a teammate for four years is incredible. All of them, I think they made our program what it is, with their positive attitudes. We have 13 or more freshman coming out next year, and that’s because of them.”
Aside for the big incoming freshmen class, Russia has plenty returning to build around to try for a fifth consecutive league title. Aside from Francis, Hammonds is the squad’s catcher and batted No. 4 in the lineup this year. Moorman, Monnin and Ashley Scott also came up with clutch hits this season.
Cordonnier, who plans to attend Wright State, said she’s happy the seniors helped elevate the program. Russia had just one SCAL title in program history before its current streak.
“When all of us seniors came in, we knew we wanted to do something to leave a legacy,” Cordonnier said. “We definitely had to work hard for that. …Michelle definitely guides our program greatly.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.