For Russia basketball, baseball title and October grief set path for state semifinal run

How did the Russia boys basketball team learn to win so much, with so much on the line, when so much was taken from them?

On the October day their beloved coach, Dave Borchers, died, nothing anyone could say or give to them would be enough to help them have a great season. But what this team had an abundance of, what they didn’t realize until it was needed more than ever, was each other.

A brotherhood forged on the baseball diamond carried over to the basketball court. They had each other to lean on through days of worry when their coach was in a hospital bed after being critically injured in a car wreck. Their bond strengthened when he died eight days later and they grieved. The ongoing grief changed their teenage perspective on what’s truly important.

“We’ll never forget what happened,” senior Xavier Phlipot said. “But we put our head down, and we try to just go out there and play like how he would want us to play.”

The Raiders (24-3) have done just that and achieved what Borchers and interim head coach Spencer Cordonnier, then the assistant coach, thought was possible back in the summer. The Raiders play in the Division IV state final four for the second time in program history at 8:30 p.m. Friday at UD Arena against defending champion Richmond Heights (27-0).

“We just want to honor his memory, and we take what he taught us and try and remember it every time we play, every time we go to practice and just be who he would want us to be,” senior Zane Shappie said. “That’s worked out pretty well for us so far.”

The togetherness that got them through October and gives them the will to grind out the most difficult of victories, Cordonnier says, began last year in baseball. The Raiders defeated three ranked teams on their way to the Division IV championship and trailed early in each of their final six tournament games. In the final, they defeated Van Wert Lincolnview and pitcher Landon Price. He entered the final with a 24-0 career record and now pitches for Ohio State.

The Raiders led 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth when Price had to leave because of his pitch count. The Raiders then scored seven runs with two outs and won 10-4.

“Being on that run in baseball only brought them closer together because you had freshmen, sophomores, juniors all trying to mesh and mix together,” Cordonnier said. “When you’re mixing three grades together it can be difficult sometimes. They came together very, very well and just fought for one another.”

Phlipot is a starting pitcher and shortstop, Shappie plays center field, Hayden Quinter plays third base, Braylon Cordonnier plays shortstop, Brayden Monnin plays second base and Ross Flessinger plays left field. Shappie, Quinter, Monnin, Cordonnier and Phlipot are the basketball starters.

“We all have a good bond amongst the players,” Phlipot said. “We all play multiple sports, and we’ve been having a lot of success and going on deep runs in tournaments. And any moment hasn’t really been fazing us so far.”

The team took a couple weeks off after winning state on June 11. When they got back in the gym in between summer baseball games, Cordonnier and Borchers talked about what they thought this state championship baseball team could be as a basketball team.

“I said, ‘You know, this is going to help us in so many ways these kids experiencing that,’” Cordonnier said. “We had almost everybody coming back, And those guys going through the grind of that late-season baseball schedule and playing in some pressure-packed situations shows how much fight and grit and resolve that these guys really do have.”

The basketball success does not surprise the players.

“I can’t remember who told me it, but somebody told me it’s almost contagious,” Shappie said. “In baseball we lost in the regional final our sophomore year, then junior year we finish the job off. And then we come back in basketball and get to the regional final. We’ve been over the hump before and we can do it again. It’s not like it’s too much for us. We’re just ready for the moment.”

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