GREENVILLE — Russia’s historic season ended Wednesday afternoon after facing a Mechanicsburg squad looking to make history of its own.
The Raiders couldn’t keep up with the strong-hitting Indians and lost 16-0 in five innings in a Division IV regional semifinal at Stebbins Field in Greenville. Mechanicsburg advances to a regional final on Saturday and will face Bradford, which beat Van Wert Lincolnview 5-1 in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
It was the first regional appearance in program history for Russia, which finishes 26-3 overall.
Russia second baseman Kendall Monnin is the team’s lone senior. Most of the squad’s players are underclassmen, including several sophomores who missed out on playing their freshman year due to COVID-19.
“We’re a young, young team who really only got their first high school season if you really think about it,” Muhlenakmp said. “We just talked how seeing a team like (Mechanicsburg), you can strive to be that kind of hitting, intimidating team. We have a lot of improving to do still even though we had such a great season.”
The Indians racked up 14 hits, three of which were home runs and three of which were doubles. Eight of the nine batters in the squad’s lineup managed at least one hit.
Russia starter Makenna Hoying lasted three innings and gave up seven earned runs on nine hits and two walks. Sophie Francis pitched the last two innings and gave up three earned runs on five hits and one walk.
“They’re pretty strong top to bottom,” Muhlenkamp said. “Some of the teams we faced this season would have a strong five, and then you could get your outs other places in the lineup. They’re just strong up and down the lineup”
Russia managed two hits against Mechanicsburg ace Daytaviah Rodgers, who struck out three batters and walked two. Rodgers’ pitches were clocked as fast as 65 miles per hour early this season according to coach Abby DeLong, and she thinks Rodgers may be throwing a couple of miles faster on some pitches now.
Muhlenkamp said Rodgers’ speed is comparable to that of Bradford ace Skipp Miller, who the squad faced in Minster’s Katie Horstmann Classic in April.
“We’ve seen it, we’ve prepped for it,” Muhlenkamp said. “I thought we did okay putting the bat on the ball. We just didn’t get the runners on.”
The Indians took a 1-0 lead when Megan Alspaugh hit a solo home run in the top of the first inning on a blast that landed 10 yards behind the left-field fence.
Leadoff hitter Simone Puthoff drew a walk to start the bottom half of the inning. Reese Goubeaux then hit a grounder toward second baseman Hanna DeLong. As DeLong tried to field the grounder, Puthoff collided with her. Both Puthoff and Goubeaux were ruled out for Puthoff’s interference.
“That kind of thing, you can’t let it affect you, but I think we let it a little bit today suck the wind out of us early on,” Muhlenkamp said. “But I loved how the girls bounced back. You couldn’t tell in the bottom of the fifth we were down by 16.
“That’s what I’m really proud of. Maybe mentally playing the ball we had a hard time overcoming it, but we didn’t energy-wise and we didn’t in being there for our teammates, and that’s what we’ve talked about all year.”
After Riley Hammonds lined out to end the first, the Indians ran away in the top of the second.
Jasalyn Sartin led off the second with a double on a fly ball to right field. Taylor Hurst then hit a single on a grounder to left field, and Rodgers followed with a three-run home run that cleared the center-field fence by about 10 foot.
Morgan Heizer hit a single to center field and Audrey Ayars hit an RBI single to right field three batters later to push the lead to 5-0. Megan Alspaugh drove in the Indians’ final run in the inning on a single on a hard grounder that went into left field.
Among the teams’ other hitting highlights the rest of the game was a three-run home run by leadoff hitter Addie DeLong in the third.
Aside from Mechanicsburg’s hot hitting, the Raiders committed five fielding errors, which Muhlenkamp said is close to a season-high, if not the most in a game this year.
“We let it compound,” Muhlenkamp said. “In past games, we didn’t let the one error, two errors compound. We let them compound today. We had some things not go our way, which happens in this game. I think that got to us too.”
The Indians (23-4) won their first regional title in 2019 and advanced to the D-IV state final in which they lost 5-0 to Antwerp. Most of the teams’ players were set to return in 2020 before the season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
“The core group of them have been together since they were about 10 years old, and we have waited their whole lives for them to be state champions,” Abby DeLong said. “We just treated this as one more stop on the journey.”
Bradford and Mechanicsburg met in a regional semifinal in 2018, which the Railroaders won 2-0. Miller, then a freshman, picked up the win in the circle. Bradford won a regional title that year and earned its first state berth. The squad lost 1-0 to Jeromesville Hillsdale in a state semifinal.
A potential regional rematch between Mechanicsburg and Bradford didn’t materialize in 2019, partly due to Miller missing the season with an injury.
“I think that’s been the matchup everyone’s been expecting, and would have been (in 2020) as well,” DeLong said. “We’re looking forward to Saturday. This group of girls, they’ve been training their whole lives for this.”
Seven of Mechanicsburg’s 16 players are seniors.
“I wish them the best of luck,” Muhlenkamp said. “I think with that many seniors, you play with a lot of heart. You don’t want it to end, and you could see it in their approach on the plate and their approach in the field.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.