SIDNEY — Russia coach Kevin Philpot described the team’s regular-season finale against rival Fort Loramie on April 30 as not having gone well.
Senior catcher Will Sherman went as far as to call it “demoralizing.”
But after a Division IV district semifinal on Monday at Sidney High School, it was Fort Loramie’s dugout that was demoralized.
Russia scored a run in the tenth inning to earn a 1-0 upset victory over the defending Div. IV state champion and top-ranked Redskins. The team advances to face Newton in a district final on Wednesday at Versailles.
It was an unexpected upset for almost everyone outside of the No. 6 seed Raiders’ dugout. The No. 1 seed Redskins won their first 25 games of the season while Russia (12-16) lost its first seven and limped into the tournament with a 10-15 record after losing three of its previous five games.
“It’s unbelievable,” Russia senior Daniel Kearns said. “It’s amazing. All the guys are loving it. We’re so happy.”
Russia couldn’t have done it without Kearns. Kearns, the team’s left-handed ace, pitched the whole game expect for the final two batters and was only removed after hitting the OHSAA’s pitch-count limit.
Kearns had several good outings against the Redskins in his career, including a start in a regional semifinal win in 2017 and a complete game in a 2-0 loss on March 28 when he allowed three hits.
But Monday will be remembered as his best. Kearns, who pitched a perfect game in a sectional final win over Riverside last week, scattered five hits over 9 2/3 innings and had 13 strikeouts with two walks and one hit batter.
It was exactly what Russia coach Kevin Philpot hoped for when he placed the team in the Sidney D-IV sectional’s upper bracket at the tournament draw earlier this month when the No. 2 through 5 seeds went in the lower bracket.
“I told these guys they had a chance to make a run in the sectional and have a chance to play for a district title, and they believed,” Philpot said. “I don’t know how many people outside of our dugout truly believed. We found a way.
“… We knew we were going to get Daniel Kearns on the mound for two tournament games, and with Daniel Kearns on the mound, I like our chances.”
Russia had to seal the victory without Kearns on the mound.
After getting Nathan Raterman to hit into an infield pop out for the second out in the bottom of the tenth, Kearns was replaced by Evan Monnier. Monnier walked Fort Loramie power hitter CJ Billing after a tense full-count at-bat that included a ball-four call that Russia fans thought was a strike.
But Monnier got Devin Wehrman to hit a pop out that went along the first-base line close to Russia’s dugout, and Sherman made a catch right in front of the fence to end it.
“I was just thinking it was a routine play,” Sherman said. “We practice that 100 times in practice. I just got it done.”
Kearns pitched the day before a 9-0 loss to Loramie on April 30 and didn’t take the mound in the game, during which the Redskins gathered 12 hits while Russia managed three.
Monday’s matchup featured Kearns and Fort Loramie senior lefty Jared Middendorf on the mound.
Middendorf pitched a complete game no-hitter on March 28 and had a strong outing on Monday. After giving up a single in the first inning, Middendorf didn’t allow another hit until a double in the ninth, which was the only other hit he allowed. He had nine strikeouts with three walks and one hit batter.
Fort Loramie coach Jeff Sanders thought Monday’s game would be much more like that matchup then the April 30 one.
“This was two of the best pitchers in this part of the state going head-to-head,” Sanders said. “We expected it to be a battle, and it was. Neither pitcher gave up a run. It came down to putting relief pitchers in the game.”
Middendorf hit his pitch limit after striking out Kearns in the ninth and was replaced by Raterman, who picked up the win on April 30. Raterman struck out Gavin George to end the ninth and strand a runner at second base, but Russia was able to get enough hits against Raterman in the tenth.
Aiden Shappie hit a single to left field with one out and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice bunt by Monnier.
Jordan York then hit a double on a fly ball to left field to score Shappie.
It wasn’t the ending the Redskins (25-2) were hoping for. Fort Loramie had a 32-game winning streak stretching back to last year’s title run before this weekend.
Instead of repeating as state champs this June, the Redskins will enter 2020 with a two-game losing streak. They lost 6-5 at Troy on Saturday in a nonconference game before Monday’s tournament upset.
“We had plenty of opportunities, we just couldn’t get them home,” Sanders said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. We just didn’t get runs home when we needed to.”
Both teams had several other chances to score, including in the first when each stranded two runners. The Redskins had the bases loaded with no outs in the seventh, only to have Kearns strike out two batters and coax a flyout to end the inning.
Fort Loramie will lose 10 seniors, including Middendorf, Raterman, Wehrman and Billing. Other seniors are Carter Mescher, Eli Rosengarten, Mason Kemper, Shane Hilgefort, Ben Barhorst and Ethan Pleiman. Most of the seniors are multiple-year varsity players and were key members of last year’s state champion squad.
“They had a tremendous career, they won a state championship, and those are things that no one can take away from them,” Sanders said. “They’ve accomplished a lot. This one will hurt for a while, but I think they’ll look back on their careers and see that winning a state championship and having a great season this season is something to be proud of.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.