CINCINNATI — Fort Loramie, (28-4) earned a berth in the Division IV baseball “final four” at Akron this Friday at 1 p.m. by pulling away from Russia (26-6), 7-1, in last Saturday’s regional championship at Princeton High School.
Warren John F. Kennedy (19-6), paced by stud pitcher and multiple sport athlete Cam Hollobaugh, is the Redskins’ state tournament opposition.
The very entertaining weekend contest between league rivals Russia and Fort Loramie was highlighted by numerous plays and batted balls that were affected by an inch or two, a few feet, and, in the case of at least one long clout, a yard… or “almost yard.”
The two clubs, each of which is state tourney caliber, were locked in a 1-1 stalemate after three innings, before the Redskins’ “small ball” started to roll and apply some heat on Russia’s defense.
“Fort Loramie earned the victory,” said seven-year head coach Kevin Phlipot of Russia, who has led the Raiders to an average of 20 wins per season and to five regional berths in the last six years of OHSAA-sponsored baseball. “We are looking forward to next year when we return all but two seniors and virtually all of our pitching.”
This intense, but respectful, rivalry was on display again — this time a drive of more than an hour from Shelby County. When the contest finished, the squads formed pre-planned handshake lines, rather than waving coronavirus salutes. A crowd of more than 700 witnessed the region final.
A turning point in Saturday’s game may have come in the second and third innings when Russia got six baserunners aboard, but only one crossed the plate. In the second frame, junior Aiden Shappie cracked a double; freshman Hayden Quinter, a double; and freshman Brayden Monnin, a single. A base-running error limited the production.
A two-run double off the bat of senior Jake Sanders gave Fort Loramie a three-run lead in the fourth inning. Sanders’ poke was the only batted ball to leave the infield for the Redskins in that three-run frame. The team totaled ten hits for the contest.
Fort Loramie junior reliever Derek Meyer threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit relief pitching to back up the Redskins “small ball” attack.
By the game’s end, the Redskins had recorded two bunt singles, four infield hits, and three safety squeeze bunts that produced runs from third. Caeleb Meyer registered three hits and was safe on a error, raced across home three times, and stole three bases on the day. The Redskins, who have now stolen 119 bases on the season, swiped five bases in all versus Russia and eleven in the two regional tournament tilts.
“We’re loaded with juniors and seniors, all of whom have been difference-makers at one time or another this year,” said four-year head coach Jeff Sanders of Fort Loramie. “Speed and athleticism are our assets. We wanted to put those on display in the regional and be creative in moving guys along.”
Russia was not surprised by the tactics of the Redskins. But the uncanny precision with which Fort Loramie executed made its bunt game almost impossible to stop. The winning team rarely left an inch to spare.
Two of Fort Loramie’s bunted balls toward third bear-hugged the foul line, a few centimeters fair for 40 feet or so. And each put Russia third baseman Grant Saunders between a rock and a hard place. He let one bunt roll on past him, knowing it had to turn foul, eventually. To the surprise of everyone in the stadium, the ball trickled all the way to the bag and “kerplunk,” it hit the third base bag, as if the baseball was being tugged on a string for 90 feet.
Another perfectly placed Redskins’ bunt was barely fair halfway down the line before it started to clearly twist toward foul ground. When Saunders belatedly snatched up the baseball, it was still touching the foul side of the chalk, but, nonetheless, on the line, and in fair territory.
“Amazing bunts…one right after another. The Redskins couldn’t have rolled the ball out there any better,” said Chuck McBee of ScoresBroadcast.com, who cheered on the super individual performances of members of both teams during the online and radio presentations of the game.
Catcher Darren Hoying and leftfielder Trevor Middendorf of Fort Loramie were responsible for the incredibly well-positioned bunt singles.
A few feet— very quick, athletic feet— helped both teams turn in eye-popping ESPN web gems…without the network’s short musical introduction.
After Fort Loramie loaded the bases in the third inning, Hoying lifted a towering pop up behind and to the right of home plate. Russia freshman catcher Quinter used his great judgment and mobile wheels to track the windblown ball nearly 70 feet back to the warning track and screen. There, sprawling on the ground, he cradled the ball in his mitt, completing a remarkable play. The catch helped Russia blank the Redskins with a “goose egg” in the third inning after the first three hitters reached base.
During one stretch of nine Russia outs in the middle of the game, Fort Loramie junior shortstop Evan Eilerman recorded five assists. His footwork was outstanding as he backhanded three balls in the hole to his right, speared a bad hop grounder that skidded off the rear slope of the mound, and picked off another by his right ear when the ball shot up in the air after hitting the back edge of the grass on the inner part of the diamond. Alertly, Eilerman also gunned down a Russia runner who tried to advance to third on a grounder to the left side of the infield.
The feet and legs of Russia freshman leftfielder Monnin made the difference in the fifth inning when his brilliant, backhand, running catch robbed Mack Fortman of a double in the corner. Monnin took off with the crack of the bat, sped 35 feet toward the foul line, and plucked Fortman’s smash out of the air while on the dead run.
A yard — well almost a yard — came into play after a long clout by Aiden Shappie to start the third inning. He plastered a batted ball to deep left field over the head of Redskins leftfielder Middendorf, who played it off the fence on one bounce. At the spacious Princeton complex, the 360-foot blast did not quite go “yard.” However, at Fort Loramie High School, the Shappie shot would have gotten “some green” on the lawn of a home after scooting across Greenback.
The Shappie hit was one of only six for the Raiders. Quinter was two for three at the plate in the game and had five base knocks for the weekend.
Russia had beaten Fort Loramie the last two times the teams met in tournament play. The Redskins have won the last six in the regular season.
Coach Sanders’ initial Fort Loramie squad won the state tourney in 2018. Additional Redskins titles came in 2007 and 2010. Is another state championship in the wind?
“Small ball” traveled very well from Shelby County down to Cincinnati. It will probably pick up even more steam rolling on 140 miles further to Akron.
So JFK, beware.