By Bryant Billing
CARLISLE — Daniel Kearns had to do some digging between innings in a Division IV district final on Saturday at Carlisle High School.
The top of Kearns’ left shoe detached from the sole, and as he drug his foot across the mound during his delivery, he picked up a bunch of dirt. While his teammates went up to bat at the beginning of each inning, Kearns fished the dirt out with a metal rod.
It was the only digging he had to do since he never got behind counts.
Kearns got through seven innings on 80 pitches and held Cincinnati Deer Park to two hits as the Raiders cruised to a 9-0 win. Russia advances to face Cincinnati Christian in a regional semifinal next Thursday at 2 p.m. at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.
“I was locating the fastballs pretty well and was just getting a lot of ground ball outs by my teammates,” Kearns said. “They were working hard behind me. It was definitely a team effort all the way through.”
It’s the second consecutive district title and fourth in the last five years for Russia, which finished as Division IV state runner-up last year.
“Obviously with what we did last year, expectations were high and we’re hoping we do it again, so for us to actually come back and repeat, I’m very proud,” Russia coach Kevin Philpot said. “Proud of the seniors and this great group of kids.
“A lot of people were expecting us to do this, but for us to actually get it done is a different thing. They’ve stepped up, and these guys are playing great right now.”
Kearns had five strikeouts and no walks and didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning.
Aside from digging out dirt each inning, he also had to deal with two lengthy delays. A brief rainstorm soaked the field in the first inning. Carlisle administrators twice had to apply Quick Dry in several spots on the field at the beginning of innings, both of which caused Kearns and the Raiders to stand around and wait for play to resume.
“They did great,” Philpot said. “We always tell them to be ready to deal with anything that comes up. Dealing with the umpire’s strike zone, bad weather — whatever’s thrown at you, you’ve got to deal with it. I was out there standing with them while we were waiting around, and these kids are just acting like kids out there. The delay didn’t bother (Kearns) or anyone.”
Russia scored two runs in each of the first, third, fourth and fifth innings to take control. They had nine hits and drew six walks.
After Kearns got out of the first inning with three routine outs, it rained heavily while Deer Park’s Tyler Otting pitched in the first inning.
Russia drew three walks in the first and Carter Francis added a single to help the team take a 2-0 lead.
“We were patient at the plate,” Philpot said. “Their pitcher, it poured down on him in that first inning. The timing was definitely to our advantage. He struggled a little bit, and we were patient and got guys on. We had some good at-bats, one through nine.”
Hunter Cohee had a single on a ground ball to left field to start the third inning, then Francis hit a double to left. Evan Monnier hit a single on an infield ground ball that scored a run, then Jack Dapore hit a sacrifice fly to put the Raiders up 4-0.
Will Sherman batted in two runs on a fielder’s choice in the fourth. The Raiders scored two runs in the fifth on an error, walk, two fielder’s choices, steal and passed ball. Jordan York finished Russia’s scoring with an RBI single to left field.
Cincinnati Christian — which is located in Fairfield Township — beat Franklin-Monroe 7-6 on Saturday in a district final to advance to Thursday’s regional semifinal. The Eagles (15-7) have a .295 team batting average and 4.38 ERA.
Kearns said winning a second consecutive regional will take a lot of hard work.
“We’ve just got to play as a team, score some runs, and hopefully we’ll come back with a trophy,” Kearns said.