AKRON — For seven innings, Russia hitters watched St. Henry outfielders track down fly balls and line drives. Nine times to be exact.
“We just knew to keep going, keep going, and eventually one will break through,” Raiders senior Xavier Phlipot said.
And finally in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs in the Division IV state semifinals, Phlipot broke through. He hit the first pitch the other way to right field, and for the first time a Russia batted ball landed in the outfield grass for a single. And Jude Counts, who led off with a bunt and moved to second on a wild pitch, scored easily to send the Raiders into celebration of a 1-0 victory.
“I was just lucky enough to be in that position to get a good pitch to hit,” Phlipot said.
The Raiders (26-6) will play for their second straight state title at 1 p.m. Saturday against Berlin Hiland (29-1), a 4-1 winner over Tiffin Calvert (29-3) in eight innings.
Phlipot’s hit was the ultimate example of a pitcher helping himself. He dueled for eight innings with St. Henry junior Devin Delzeith. Both pitchers allowed four hits, one walk and struck out five.
“Delzeith pitched his heart out, but Xavier just matched everything,” Russia coach Kevin Phlipot said. “Both those kids, on the biggest stage, pitched probably the best games of their career. I mean, they were making pitches.”
St. Henry (24-7) threatened to score in the sixth when Delzeith and Logan Link singled and eventually put Phlipot in a jam with runners at second and third with no outs. Phlipot got a infield popup then a high chopper to second baseman Brayden Monnin who threw a strike to the plate to cut down Delzeith for the second out. Another popup ended the inning.
St. Henry also put the second runner on base in the first inning and leadoff runner in the second, but freshman catcher Cooper Unverferth threw both of them out trying to steal second.
“We’re prepared,” Kevin Phlipot said. “Our mindset was for this outcome. We weren’t overconfident. But as you’ve seen, the moment so far has not been too big for us.”