RUSSIA — Fort Loramie has steamrolled over most opponents this season — and when they haven’t been driving a steamroller, they’ve still beaten everyone.
If anyone can derail the Redskins’ roll before regionals, Russia may have the best chance with Daniel Kearns on the mound.
Kearns, a senior left-handed pitcher, threw his second perfect game of the season on Wednesday as the Raiders cruised by Riverside to a 10-0 victory in five innings in a Division IV sectional final.
Now Kearns will get to take the Fort Loramie challenge again on Monday in a district semifinal. The defending Div. IV champion Redskins beat Ansonia 12-0 in a sectional final on Wednesday to set up next Monday’s showdown against Russia, which will be played at Sidney High School.
Kearns owns a couple of career wins over Fort Loramie but lost in his only start against the rival Redskins this season. Fort Loramie won 2-0 on March 29 in a pitcher’s duel. Kearns allowed three hits while Fort Loramie senior lefty Jared Midddendorf threw a no-hitter.
“They’re a perfect team,” Kearns said. “I’ve watched them a couple of times besides when I’ve pitched against them. They’re phenomenal, and it’s going to take our best effort to pull out a win there, but I’m excited for it and can’t wait until Monday.”
Kearns also threw a perfect game earlier this season against Houston. He struck out 11 batters on Wednesday and got through five innings on 57 pitches. He threw just 13 balls.
“That’s what he’s been doing all year for the most part,” Russia coach Kevin Philpot said. “… Daniel, when he’s on, can make a lot of guys have tough days at the plate.”
With Wednesday’s performance, Kearns now owns Russia’s career strikeouts record. He has 195 to his credit, 101 of which have come this season, which is good for the program’s single-season record.
“I definitely got in the gym over the summer and last fall I definitely hit the weight room a lot more,” Kearns said. “It helped me out lower-body just getting stronger, and it’s definitely helped me out pitching.”
Kearns also pitched a complete game when Russia (11-15) beat Riverside 10-0 in five innings in a nonconference game on April 11. He had 10 strikeouts in that game with two hits and one walk.
“We knew it would be tough,” first-year Riverside coach Todd Guthrie said. “We knew he’s a pretty good pitcher, and he shut us down tonight.”
Having another shutdown performance next Monday will be a tough task. Fort Loramie (24-0) has scored 10 or more runs in 12 games this season and has scored eight or more runs 16 times.
The Redskins are the Sidney D-IV sectional’s No. 1 seed, while Russia is the No. 6 seed. Philpot elected to place Russia in the sectional’s top bracket to potentially face off with Fort Loramie during the tournament draw meeting earlier this month after the No. 2 through 5 seeds all went in the sectional’s top bracket.
“Placing us on the bracket like that, I knew we’d get Daniel Kearns on the mound for two tournament games, and when he’s on the mound, that’s when we’re at our best,” Philpot said. “Any game he pitches, I like our chances. I know we won’t be the favorites, but we like our chances. We’ll give them a game.”
Fort Loramie, which has won 31 consecutive games since losing to Coldwater late last season, also beat Russia when the teams played in regular season on April 30. Kearns didn’t pitch that day, when the Redskins won 9-0.
Russia dropped to 6-12 after its second loss to Fort Loramie but has won five of its last eight, including a 2-1 victory over Anna last Saturday.
“We had a rough start but have turned it around and have been playing some really good baseball so far,” Kearns said. “The team has been making plays, and that’s what it’s all about. We’re coming together as a team and we’re playing pretty good baseball.”
Kearns struck out the first three batters he faced on Wednesday, and the Raiders took the lead in the bottom half of the first.
Riverside starting pitcher Deven Frilling walked three of the first four batters he faced and gave up a single to the other. After he walked in a run to put Russia ahead 1-0, the Pirates swapped him for Harley Asbury.
After Grant Saunders hit into a fielder’s choice, Kearns hit a line-drive single to left field to score two runs and Gavin George followed with an RBI double to left field to increase the lead to 4-0.
The Raiders left the bases loaded in the second but scored four more runs in the third, including two off a 2-RBI double by Will Sherman that hit off the center-field fence.
Russia got one runner on base in the fourth but ended the game in the fifth. Carter Francis hit an RBI single to shallow right field to boost the lead to 9-0, then Kearns drew a walk with the bases loaded to end it.
Philpot said he felt confident entering the game based on the team’s regular-season win over Riverside.
“But we’re not taking anything for granted and we still had to take care of business,” Philpot said. “We came out that first inning and jumped on them early, and when you have Daniel on the mound, you don’t need much offense.”
Riverside, which beat Houston 1-0 in a sectional opener on Tuesday, finishes 6-20 overall.
“We were not expected to beat Houston and Levi Godwin pitched an outstanding game to get us to this point,” Guthrie said. “… I can’t say enough about these kids. They’re great kids.
“We’re starting to rebuild something at Riverside and get a great program going. We took one step in the tournament this year, and that’s one step forward for us. Hopefully, we can keep right on going next year.”
The Pirates will lose four seniors to graduation: Asbury, RJ McGowan, Damian Slaven and Hunter Hubble.
“RJ was fantastic on the mound and playing at first base and Harley was just an absolute rock at third base,” Guthrie said. “They’re both returning players, while both Damian Slaven and Hunter Hubble were first-year players who decided to go out and found playing time. …Those seniors led the way this year, they really did.”
Russia has beaten Fort Loramie the last three times the programs have played in tournament games, including in a regional semifinal in 2017. The Raiders finished as state runner-up to Minster that season.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.