The Raiders are determined to do better the regional tournament this year. They’ll get a chance after winning their second straight district title on Saturday.
Russia pulled away late and beat South Charleston Southeastern 8-3 to earn a Division IV district title and regional berth. The squad advances to face Howard East Knox in a regional semifinal on Tuesday at Northmont High School.
“We work so hard in practice every single day, and it’s paying off,” senior catcher Riley Hammonds said. “Our hard work shows, and our energy shows. It’s hard to be in the dugout (and stay energetic) all game, but these girls bring the energy all the time. It’s fantastic to play with all of them.”
The Raiders (26-1), which were ranked No. 1 in Division IV in the most recent state coaches association poll, have been working all season at preparing for faster pitching speeds they are likely to encounter deep in postseason play.
The squad didn’t see speedy pitching on Saturday. Southeastern ace Taylor Lewis, a senior, was unable to play and watched from the dugout with her pitching hand wrapped up.
Sophomore Katie Tehan started and kept the Raiders off balance early.
But Russia started hitting better as the game wore on. The squad scored one run in each the third, fourth and fifth innings to take a 3-0 lead. It then exploded for five runs in the sixth to take an 8-0 lead and put the game away.
“It’s no secret we’ve been hitting a tick faster and a little bit better, but we’d been working on (facing slower speed) all week,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said. “The girls knew it would take us a minute to see it and adjust, but they figured it out and got it done and got a lot of hits.
“… They took advantage of doing the little things right, taking the bases, getting the bunts down. That’s what we have to do when maybe the bats aren’t totally on fire 100 percent right away. We’ve just got to start making things happen.”
Russia finished with 11 hits, and No. 2 hitter Reese Goubeaux led the squad at the plate.
Goubeaux was 3 for 4 with one walk and scored two runs. She made contact on the first pitch in four of her five plate appearances.
“I knew she was going to have a great day,” Muhlenkamp said. “She worked a lot this week on waiting on the slower pitcher and letting the ball get in there.”
Hammonds was 2 for 4 with one walk, Ava Daniel was 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs and one walk and Saige Hoying was 1 for 2 with 2 RBIs and one walk.
Makena Hoying started and pitched five innings. She gave up two hits and struck out five batters.
“She kept them off balance, which is kind of her thing,” Muhlenkamp said. “She just trusted Riley back there, and Riley’s calls. They worked well together and did an awesome job again today.”
Hammonds has started at catcher since her freshman season — and has played the position a lot in summer ball, too.
At Russia, she’s paired with Russia pitcher Sophie Francis, who splits time in the circle with Hoying, the last four years. Hoying, a junior, has worked with Hammonds on varsity for three years.
Hammonds has been named first team all-SCAL each of her three high school seasons (she was a sophomore three years ago when COVID-19 resulted in the cancelation of spring sports). She was named SCAL player of the year as a junior and finished second to Hoying in player of the year voting this year.
“She leads our defense and does an awesome job back there,” Muhlenkamp said of Hammonds. “Our pitchers trust her and her softball knowledge. As a coach, I just love to give the game back to the girls. If they can handle it, let them be the leaders out there, and call the game.”
Aside from good pitching, the squad has benefited from decent defense this season. That was on display again Saturday.
Shortstop Simone Puthoff made a diving catch on a fly to shallow center field in the third inning for the first out. It proved to be a crucial out, too, as the Trojans had two hits on their next three at bats.
The game ended on a good defensive play. Southeastern’s Makena Morgan hit a hard line drive to right field, but Cece Borchers charged to it and dove to make the final out.
“I feel like we have a lot more discipline on defense,” Hammonds said. “We pride ourselves on making that play and all of that hustle. You could see that with Simone diving for that ball and Cece making that last play, too.”
Hammonds said pitching well and playing good defense will be critical in regional tournament play — as well as hitting faster pitching.
The Raiders strengthened their nonconference schedule even more than usual this year in hopes of facing faster pitching. Among their nonleague foes was Northmont, a 23-win squad that advanced to a Division I district final. Russia beat the Thunderbolts 11-10 on April 15.
Hammonds said she’s confident the squad will have a better regional performance this season.
“We play to have fun,” Hammonds said. “We always say we start every game 0-0, and we have to play it like it’s our last.”
Muhlenkamp said the squad has more confidence heading into their second regional appearance.
“I think last year, we knew we were a good team. This year, we believe it,” Muhlenkamp said. “We know we have what it takes. It’s a great group of girls. Not just softball players, but a great group of girls that have a lot of fun together no matter what it is they’re doing in life.
“I just told them out there that I feel like the blessings will keep coming if they just keep doing what they’re doing, trusting each other and having fun when we play.
“I think we trust ourselves a little bit more this year. We believe we’re a good team when we’re stepping in there hitting the ball, we believe we’re a good team when it comes to doing the little things for seven innings.”
Russia’s regional semifinal against East Knox is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. on Tuesday in Clayton. The game was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was moved up one day due to rain in the forecast.
If victorious, the Raiders would advance to face the Mechanicsburg vs. Bradford winner in a regional final. The final is scheduled for Friday evening at Northmont but could be changed; as of Monday, the forecast for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday included a high chance for rain and thunderstorms.
Southeastern, which was the Cincinnati D-IV sectional’s No. 1 seed, finishes 18-7 overall.
Tehan pitched a complete game and allowed eight earned runs on 11 hits and seven walks while striking out two batters.
Hoying drove in the game’s first run on a line-drive single to left in the third. Goubeaux hit an RBI single to center with one out in the fourth to push the lead to 2-0. Saige Hoying hit an RBI single to left with two outs in the fifth to push the lead to 3-0.
The Raiders scored five runs on five hits and one walk in the sixth. Hammonds had an RBI single to right field. Kelby Doseck hit an RBI single to center and Ava Daniel hit a 2-RBI single to left.
Francis relieved Hoying the sixth, and the Trojans scored three runs on three hits and one error. Southeastern went down in order in the seventh.
The contest was originally scheduled to take place Friday evening, but heavy rain early Friday morning resulted in a postponement to Saturday morning.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.