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Russia comes from behind to defeat Newark Catholic 4-3 in OHSAA baseball Division 4 state semifinal game

After trailing 3-0, the Raiders score four in the fourth to take the lead and Grant Saunders makes it hold up on the mound.
Russia baseball Grant Saunders Ryan Isley

AKRON, Ohio – Russia found itself in a familiar position on Thursday morning at Canal Park when the Raiders trailed Newark Catholic 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning of an OHSAA Division IV state semifinal game.

After all, they had trailed in each of their last three games.

But just like the three games before it, Russia came from behind, winning 4-3 with four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.

“It wasn’t the best of starts for us,” Russia head coach Kevin Phlipot said. “It’s not the way I like it, but we have been there and that’s what I talked about. I said we have been in this position, and we had plenty of at-bats left.”

And like those other games, it was the second time through the lineup where Russia finally struck.

Brayden Monnin started the fourth inning off with a single and Xavier Phlipot followed suit. After two quick outs, Braylon Cordonnier got an infield single, and Monnin scored on an error. After a walk to Aiden Shappie loaded the bases, Zane Shappie stepped up and hit a double down the right field line. When the dust settled, all three runners had scored, one of them on another Newark Catholic error.

“He is not afraid to hit it that way,” Coach Phlipot said. “He told me he was going to hit it over the first baseman’s head. He knew he wanted to shoot that line.”

Pitcher Grant Saunders took it from there for the Raiders. 

Once Russia took the lead, Saunders shut the door by retiring the final nine Newark Catholic hitters in order. He finished the day by giving up three runs (two earned) on just two hits and he struck out four. He threw a complete game in just 76 pitches.

“I was feeling pretty good,” Saunders said. “It started with a great warmup and a decent bullpen session. I just came out and threw strikes. They hit them and put it in play, but we were able to get the outs.”

There was no better evidence of that than in the top of the first inning, when Saunders threw just five pitches to get three outs because Newark Catholic’s first two hitters got out on the first pitch and then the third hitter saw three pitches.

“I am more of a strikeout guy, so it usually takes me 15 pitches or so to get through an inning,” Saunders said. “It felt amazing.”

That first inning was also a great way for Russia to settle in on the biggest stage they have seen this season.

“That was the perfect inning for us to calm our nerves if you have any jitterbugs,” Coach Phlipot said. “It was boom, boom, boom. It set the tone.”

Russia will now play in the Division IV state championship game for the first time since 2017 and will look to win its first state title since 1971 when it takes on Lincolnview at 10 a.m. Saturday.