By Josh Brown
EATON — Two catches defined Saturday’s Division IV district baseball final.
One that Russia’s Dion Puthoff made. And one that Newton did not.
With the Raiders holding a three-run lead, Puthoff, the Russia shortstop, made an incredible diving catch on a blooper that ended the fourth inning and prevented the Indians from drawing closer. And in the sixth, he hit a three-run triple on a blooper that the Newton right fielder tried to make a diving catch on but couldn’t, kicking off an eight-run inning that sealed a 12-2 Russia victory in six innings Saturday at Eaton High School.
And while both plays by Puthoff were huge, the play of the game definitely came with his glove.
With Russia leading 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Newton’s Noah Weaver drew a one-out walk and Nate Zielinski singled with two outs to put runners on the corners and bring up leadoff hitter Ryan Mollette. With the Raider third baseman drawn in to protect against a bunt, Mollette hit a blooper over his head that would have plated two runs — but Puthoff came sailing in out of nowhere and made a fully-extended diving catch to end the inning.
“Was that incredible or what?” Russia coach Kevin Phlipot said. “I came out of my seat on that one. He is an incredible athlete, and nothing will surprise you. He just has incredible instincts, and he was off on contact. I didn’t think he was going to get it, but he did — and that was huge at that point in the game.”
And after both teams went down in order in the fifth, Puthoff struck again in the sixth.
Jack Dapore reached on a third-strike wild pitch, Daril Lavy singled and Trenton Monnin was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Puthoff went the other way with a looping fly ball to right field, but Newton’s right fielder missed on his attempt diving forward, letting the ball roll behind him and score all three runs as Puthoff ended up with a bases-clearing triple.
“It’s what we preach — go with the offspeed pitch to right-center,” Phlipot said. “We hit some balls hard that way, and right there was a textbook one. It got by them, and that was the backbreaker.”
Russia (21-6) added two runs on errors and another on an RBI single by Kevin Drees, then Dapore capped off the inning with a two-run double that made it a 12-1 game, and the Raiders closed out the win from there.
For the Indians (26-3), though, missed chances early allowed Russia to pull away.
“When you get to these games, it’s all about the little things,” Newton coach Jordan Kopp said. “We left too many guys on base early, and when you’re facing Russia, they can swing the bats better than anybody. When we leave too many guys on base early, you give them opportunities down the road, and that’s exactly what happened.”
After a one-two-three first by Russia starter Daniel Kearns, the Indians threatened in the second as Austin Evans and Noah Weaver drew walks and moved up to second and third on a balk with two outs. But Russia center fielder Dylan Cordonnier made a tough catch on a shallow fly ball for the third out to leave them stranded.
Newton got a run back in the third with a two-out rally, as Cole Weaver, Rhett Gipe and Nelson Clymer hit back-to-back-to-back singles, with Clymer’s driving in the run to make it 3-1 at the time.
All told, though, Newton left seven runners stranded in the game, six of them in scoring position. And while the Indians were missing opportunities, the Raiders were making good on them.
Puthoff led the game off with a single in the top of the first, moved to second on a Cordonnier sac bunt and scored on an RBI single by Drees. In the second, Evan Monnier reached on an error, was bunted to second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI suicide squeeze by Daril Lavy. And in the third, Puthoff led off with a double, took third on another Cordonnier bunt and scored on an RBI sac fly by Drew Sherman to make it 3-0.
“You look at the first three innings, and that was perfect baseball,” Philpot said. “We got a guy on, bunted him over, base hit. Got a guy on, bunted him over, passed ball, squeeze. Got a guy on, bunted him over, sacrifice fly. We preach productive outs, and those first three runs were Baseball 101.
“We knew Newton was pretty much a mirror of us. We like to run, bunt guys over, do the little things. And we stressed on the bus ride here, it’s the team that can execute, that can get the bunt down and defend the bunt correctly. Once you go deeper in the tournament, it’s the team that can stay calm and make the routine plays.”
Puthoff finished the game 4 for 4 with four RBIs, adding an RBI single in the fourth that made it 4-1 at the time, and three runs scored. Drees was also 2 for 4 with two RBIs as the Raiders had 12 hits in the game and took advantage of four Newton errors. Kearns went the distance, giving up six hits and three walks while striking out seven.
For the Indians, Cole Weaver struck out six, walked none and hit two in the loss. Noah Weaver was 1 for 1 with a double and two walks, Clymer was 1 for 3 with an RBI and Cole Weaver, Gipe, Treg Jackson and Nate Zielinski each had one hit, with Charlie Walker driving in s run in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI groundout.
“We didn’t play our best defense today, but I was proud of Cole Weaver,” Kopp said. “He had an eye injury, hadn’t pitched in about a month. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled. It’s unfortunate, but I’m proud of these guys.”
Russia advances to the regional semifinal in Springfield next week to face Fort Loramie. The game was the third straight district runner-up finish for the Indians, a run that began with a 3-2 loss to Russia two seasons ago. But Newton still set the school record for victories in a season, and it will be looking to make a run at a fourth shot at a district title next season.
“It was the most successful baseball team in school history,” Kopp said. “These seniors have a lot to remember, and this team has a lot to remember. But I told the guys to let this sting, let this hurt, but let’s plan to be back here next year with a different outcome. We’ve got a lot of guys returning, and we’re going to be in good shape next year.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.