‘Prize’ not right, Russia claim Division IV crown — Press Pros Magazine
In a time and culture of the unlikely, the Russia Raiders added their own chapter by claiming the 2022 OHSAA Division IV state baseball title on Lincolnview.
Canton, Ohio – First, credit where credit is due.
There aren’t many coaches who know their teams so well to predict how they’re going to win on a day-to-day basis…even on a day as big as the Division IV state championship.
Kevin Phlipot has been saying all year… that if the Russia Raiders shoot and play defense, sooner or later we’ll find a way to score – to win. Saturday, at the Canal stadium in Akron, he climbed like the “Carnac” of Johnny Carson. Clinging to a tenuous 3-2 lead through the middle innings, Russia exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning against Lincolnview starter Landon Price and reliever Keagan Farris to secure a 10- 4 Raider, and their first OHSAA state baseball title in 51 years.
In an “unlikely” day and culture, Russia followed Phlipot’s recipe to the icing on the cake.
It had been 51 years since Ron Schulze had gone 5-for-5 with 5 RBIs to beat Old Fort High School, 13-5. On that day it would be Hayden Quinter who went 3 for 3, scored 2 runs and led for 2 in a 10-4 victory.
Russia were a pre-season unknown, an afterthought as a team capable of threatening for the title, and only appeared in the top 20 at number 17 at the end of the season.
And to get there, they had to beat a No. 6 ranked, a No. 4 and a No. 3 on their course.
They also had to beat Landon Price of Lincolnview in the championship game, an Ohio State committing and kicking machine who had NEVER lost a game in high school — 24-0 — before. Saturday’s final.
And the referees have lost track of the balls and the strikes count… double!
None of that mattered. That day, ‘Price’ was not right – not the same Landon Price strike-throwing machine that college and professional scouts had grown accustomed to. He struggled with command, threw forty more pitches than his season average and finally had to leave in the bottom of the seventh after hitting his throw limit of 125.
After a scoreless first, Lincolnview reached Phlipot for a run at the top of the second on a single from Austin Bockrath, a wild pitch and an RBI single from teammate Brandon Renner.
“I had told the kids it might be a 2-1 game,” Kevin Phlipot said. “Because we didn’t know how many opportunities we were going to have. And we were a little nervous at first, they scored first, and it was like, ‘Boy, how’s this gonna work?’
“But we ran into them. (Brayon) Cordonnier got a base hit, we hit a few balls on target and we were on our way. We had positives and we made it work (Price). We made him work as if he had never had to work before.
Cordonnier’s single was followed by a single from Zane Shappie at center, who advanced to the second on a failed out attempt. Then Jude Counts threw a ball to right field for which Lincolnview’s Cole Binkley dove and came out empty. Two points scored and Russia led 2-1.
It appeared Lincolnview had recovered at the top of third when they scored on a fielding error by Jared Counts, a hit batter, a Cobbler pitching error, allowing Cole Binkley to score from third base…2 -2.
But Russia responded again, this time on Hayden Quinter’s second single at bat, a Cobbler single and an Aiden Shappie single that scored Quinter… 3-2.
At this time, Xaiver Phlipot began to get used to the task. As Price ignited the powder with 87, 88 and 89, Phlipot threw slow, slower and even slower with the breaking ball and his change. Ted Williams once claimed that hitting was timing, and Phlipot totally screwed up that timing by pitching with less velocity than Lancer hitters had seen all year. They hit the ball smashing into the ground, and when he threw the fastball at 76 mph, they bounced it weakly into the infield.
Still looking for slowdowns when they came in sixth, Phlipot resorted to more fastballs…and hit the side! He would finish with five for the afternoon, but those three in their penultimate bat were the icing on the cake of Lincolnview’s frustration.
Price had pitched in and out of trouble thanks to a scoreless fourth-and-fifth, but his luck ran out (along with his pitch count) in the sixth.
Aiden Shappie started with a hit. But Price would take out Zane Shappie and Jared Poling back to back. And when Jude Counts was hit by a pitch, it signaled the end of Price on the mound.
Keagan Farris came in and quickly hit Brayden Monnin to charge the bases. Xavier Phlipot walked to lead in what was shaping up to be a major insurance race (4-2). Hayden Quinter singled to the left field line, his third hit of the day, to drive in a pair of runs. Grant Saunders then isolated the shortstop’s glove to charge the bases again.
Then Braylon Cordonnier shook all thoughts as to the magnitude of the moment (and a phantom 6-4-3 double play he threw early in the game when there was no runner first) …and ripped a triple down the aisle at center right. He cleared the bases, and any question of a Lincolnview comeback in the top of the seventh. Aiden Shappie followed with a single to score Cobbler, and Jared Poling finally flew to center to end the Raiders’ unlikely 7-run inning… 10-3.
When Lincolnview coach Eric Fishpaw pulled Landon Price off the mound in the second, the Lancer faithful stood as one to salute his last high school pitching effort, his 24-0 career record and his strenuous competitive effort on a day when he was clearly not at his best. He struck out 10, walked 2 and allowed 8 hits and 5 runs. Additionally, he threw 125 pitches to do so, about 40 more than normal. Responding to the crowd, he tilted his cap in a back-to-school gesture.
But Price is a baseball player and will immediately contribute to Ohio State. Having to be first in the top of the seventh, he singled left, then advanced to second on an error… and stole third. Cole Binkley followed with a triple on Phlipot that scored Price for his last high school stat. They would add another harmless run to close the deficit at 10-4, but Caden Hanf became the last eliminated on a defender’s pick…and the Raiders rushed to the field, Xavier Phlipot, and the party was on.
Russia (25-6) won with 10 runs on 13 hits and committed 3 errors.
Lincolnview (24-7) was down with 4 runs on 8 hits and had 4 errors.
Winning pitcher Xavier Phlipot had proven beyond doubt that there was more to power and speed than throwing.
“At the start of the game I had nerves and it was a smaller strike zone…but I worked around it,” Phlipot said. “My defense made some very good plays. After I had the chance to sit down and come back, I was much more confident.
“Yesterday I saw these DI and DII pitchers throw 90 and I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew I couldn’t be anything special, more than I already am. Just throw it over the plate and keep it low. I threw a lot of off-speed, and my curveball was my go-to pitch—my change was the swing-and-miss pitch. And once in a while I would get one with a fastball.
“Russia had a plan of attack,” said Eric Fishpaw. “They just cropped, and cropped, and tipped their heads in defense. They made some special plays in the infield.
“Landon was a bit off today,” he added. “But he’s a special kid and he’s going to do special things at Ohio State.”
51 years is a long time to wait. And while Ron Schulze is very much alive and will be happy to show you the bat he used that day in 1971, he joined the Russian community on Saturday to welcome a new chapter to an old legacy. They’ve been playing good baseball in the Shelby County League – forever – and Kevin Phlipot is now joining the company of some of the league’s champion coaches, Bill Sturwold (Loramie twice, 2007, ’10), Jeff Sanders (Loramie, 2018) , Tom Middletown and Richard Ansley (Anna, 1972 and 1980), and of course, Roger Eckenwiler (Russia, 1971).
“It’s tough when you don’t see 88 (mph) very often and you have to adapt to that,” said Kevin Phlipot.
“I’m proud of our guys. Last night we saw a kid throw 94 and get beat up. So we had it easy today. They only threw 88 and we threw the most off-speed they’ve seen. Our children were balanced and resilient.
Veteran trainer and father figure Denny Monnin likes to talk about deer hunting before games. It seems to bring them luck. But even he admitted that a state baseball title was more special than the biggest dollar of his life that he pocketed last fall.
Kevin Phlipot had to think, consider…if this was his most special moment – if anything could top that?
“As far as my family is concerned, I don’t know if I want to answer that question,” he smiles. “Just look around (the happy fans and kids). Right now, there is nothing better.