By Bryant Billing
SPRINGFIELD — Errors put Russia in a big deficit after two innings in a Division IV regional semifinal against Cincinnati Christian on Thursday at Carleton Davidson Stadium in Springfield.
The Raiders’ pitching rebounded, but they didn’t get their bats going against Cougars ace Mitchell Smith.
Cincinnati Christian scored six runs in the first two innings to run away to a 6-1 win over Russia. The Cougars (16-7) advance to face either Fort Loramie or Minster in a regional final on Friday.
Cincinnati Christian’s runs in the first two innings came thanks to seven singles and four errors by Russia.
“Those first two innings, we just couldn’t overcome that,” Russia coach Kevin Philpot said. “That’s what we harped on — just avoid the big inning, two runs or less, stop the bleeding when something happens. We just couldn’t catch a break.”
Russia starting pitcher Daniel Kearns (who allowed two hits in a complete game in a district final last Saturday) was removed with no outs in the second after allowing six runs on five hits. Four of the runs were unearned due to Russia’s errors.
The Raiders replaced Kearns with Jack Dapore in the second, and he allowed three hits in five innings and had eight strikeouts.
“Daniel didn’t pitch that bad,” Philpot said. “A couple of bad hops, bad plays, bad throws. Just couldn’t field a bunt there, make that play. …Daniel pitched fine, but they were putting it in play, and unfortunately, we weren’t fielding it.
“I knew we needed some strikeouts or something, and Jack is known for that. …He did great and did what he always does. He gave us a chance, but it was just too big a hole.”
Though Dapore was able to shut down Cincinnati Christian, Smith kept up a solid performance until the final out. He allowed six hits and one unearned run and had three strikeouts.
“It’s a tough spot for any team (being down 6-0),” Philpot said. “We were right there for breaking open. A couple of those innings, we just needed one break to put a two or three spot on (the scoreboard), but they made the plays.
“… Their pitcher was just good enough to keep us off balance. We squared up a few off him but we hit a few at him. We just couldn’t do it enough, get enough hits together.”
Russia, which lost to Minster in the Div. IV state title game last year, finishes 19-10 overall. The Raiders will lose Hunter Cohee, Dion Puthoff, Jack Dapore, Carter Stueve, Brandon Koverman and Daril Lavy to graduation.
Russia has appeared in regional semifinals three times in the last four years and won the Shelby County Athletic League the last two seasons.
“I’m incredibly proud of these guys,” Philpot said. “We’ve battled. …For the seniors, it doesn’t mean much to them right now, but I was trying to express to them that they have accomplished something. Only one team can win that last game, and one off day can happen to anybody. These guys have accomplished a lot and have worked hard.”
The Cougars will return to Springfield on Friday at 5 p.m. for a regional final against either the Redskins or Wildcats, which will play in Thursday’s second regional semifinal.
Russia had a disastrous first inning. Smith started Cincinnati Christian with a single on a line drive to right field and then stole second base. Alex Bertram hit a ground ball to Puthoff at shortstop, who threw it past first baseman Carter Francis.
Alex Johnson then hit a grounder to Puthoff, who couldn’t field it. Johnson reached first base, and Smith scored to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
Jacob Carroll hit a pop fly that dropped in shallow left field by Russia’s Jordan York to score Bertram. Coby Anderson hit a sacrifice flyout to left to score another run and increase the lead to 3-0.
Russia went down in order in the first, and Cincinnati Christian went right back to work against Kearns in the second.
Connor Ploetz led off the inning with grounder to third, then Tim Carangi walked. Smith hit a bunt single to third to load the bases, and Bertram followed with a single to center field on a hard ground ball to put the Cougars up 4-0. Carangi then scored on an error to increase the lead to five.
Russia switched Kearns for Dapore on the mound. Dapore struck out Johnson, but Jacob Carroll hit a sacrifice ground out to push the lead to 6-0. Dapore walked Cody Anderson but struck out Winston Spencer to end the inning and strand two runners.
“It was just kind of a little snowball action right there,” Philpot said. “After one bad thing happened, another happened, then after that, we might have tightened up a little bit because it happened so fast.
“But I’m incredibly proud of these guys. They worked hard out there and got through that. After those first two innings, it was our game to be had. Unfortunately, those six runs were just too much to overcome.”
Evan Monnier hit a one-out single in the second inning for Russia and advanced to second base on a throwing error. After Dapore grounded out, Kearns hit a line drive single to center field to score Monnier and cut Russia’s deficit to 6-1.
Russia’s next best chance to score came in the fifth. Puthoff hit a one-out double to right, and after Will Sherman flied out, Cohee drew a walk. Puthoff then stole third base, but Carter Francis flied out to right field to end the inning.
Dapore and Sherman got singles in the seventh, but Russia didn’t score.
The Raiders finished with six hits and five errors, while Cincinnati Christian had eight hits and one error.
Monnier was 2 for 3 for the Raiders.