Russia seeks first state baseball title since 1971

The Russia High School baseball team celebrates a Division IV regional championship on Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Russia High

Combined ShapeCaption
The Russia High School baseball team celebrates a Division IV regional championship on Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Russia High

Raiders face nine-time state champion Newark Catholic on Thursday in Akron

One year ago, Russia High School honored the members of its 1971 state baseball championship team fifty years after its tournament run. A big chunk of the team, the first baseball team to win a state title in Shelby County, came to a game at the high school and posed for a photo.

This week in Akron, the current Russia Raiders will try to honor the 1971 team by following in its footsteps. Russia (23-6) plays No. 4 Newark Catholic (24-6) at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Division IV state semifinals at Canal Park.

Russia coach Kevin Phlipot is familiar with the 1971 team because its photo and trophy are right next to the photo and trophy of his 2017 state runner-up team at the high school.

“The names of all the players are listed, and if you go through the names, they’re all local names,” Phlipot said.

The biggest name on that 1971 team belonged to Ron Schultze, who hit for the cycle in the state championship game. Russia beat Old Fort High School 13-5 thanks to Schultz, who tripled, doubled, singled and singled in first four at-bats and then hit a grand slam in his fifth trip to the plate. He scored five runs and drove in six.

Grant Saunders, who will play college baseball at Walsh University, leads the offense and the pitching staff in 2022. He’s hitting .471 and will start on the mound Thursday. He struck out 10 in a 6-2 victory against Southeastern in the regional semifinals.

“He’s been as we expected,” Phlipot said. “He did not pitch the first half of the season. Just a little arm fatigue or whatnot. He had some issues and took some time off to rehab, so it was in the second half of the season before he started to go. The Southeastern game was his first complete game of the year because we were slowly building him up.”

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Xavier Phlipot, the head coach’s nephew, threw a complete game in the regional final Friday in a 7-1 victory against Fort Loramie at Princeton High School in Cincinnati. Russia avenged a loss — by the same score and on the same field — to Fort Loramie in the 2021 regional final.

Russia returned all but one player from the team that lost to Fort Loramie last season, so expectations were high this season. Kevin Phlipot knew that was no guarantee of success because the 2017 team that lost to Minster in the state championship game returned almost everyone but lost in the regional final the next season.

“We played this entire year for that game, for the regional final, to repeat that,” said Phlipot, who’s in his eighth season. “It was in our mind. It was in everybody’s mind. The parents, the town, they knew the expectations. To believe you can do it but to actually go and do what everybody expected you to do with the pressure, this bunch overcame all that and was able to perform under those circumstances.”

Brayden Monnin, Aiden Shappie and Jared Poling all had two hits in the regional final. Braylon Cordonnier, who’s hitting .393, drove in five runs in a 9-2 victory against Fairfield Cincinnati Christian in the district final. The team’s other leading hitter is Hayden Quinter (.410).

Russia’s opponent, Newark Catholic, will make its 17th final four appearance. It has won nine state championships, including seven under head coach John Cannizzaro. It last won the title in 2016. Only Elder (12) has more state championships in baseball.

Tiffin Calvert (18-12), making its first state appearance, plays No. 3 Van Wert Lincolnview (23-6) in the other D-IV state semifinal at 1 p.m. The semifinal winners will play in the state championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Lincolnview will make its fourth state semifinal appearance. It won the state championship in 1962, lost in the semifinals in 1974 and lost 4-0 to Warren John F. Kennedy in the state championship game last season.

This state run has been in the works for years for Russia.

“I would say last year we were a year ahead of schedule because we had a couple of freshmen, a bunch of sophomores and a couple of juniors,” Phlipot said. “As the kids grow up, the parents always look at the kids and say, ‘When these kids are seniors, that’s the grade when they’re going to do it,’ and this year was kind of pinpointed a while back, that this would be one of the better teams we’d have. So far, it has turned out that way.”

Combined ShapeCaption
The Russia High School baseball team celebrates a Division IV regional championship on Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Russia High

The Russia High School baseball team celebrates a Division IV regional championship on Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Russia High

Combined ShapeCaption
The Russia High School baseball team celebrates a Division IV regional championship on Friday, June 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Russia High

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