By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
VERSAILLES — After a second-round upset last season, the Newton baseball team fought its way back to the district championship game this year, for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Standing in the way? An all-too familiar opponent.
And in the end, after Russia plated a pair of controversial first-inning runs, the Indians simply couldn’t figure out Raiders starter Evan Monnier, who retired 15 straight batters at one point and went the distance to seal a 3-1 victory over Newton in the Division IV district final Wednesday at Versailles.
Russia (13-16) — which has stood in the Indians’ way of advancing to the regional in three of those four district appearances — moves on to face the winner between Cincinnati Christian and Tri-County North in the regional semifinal May 30 in Springfield, while Newton’s season ends at 22-5.
“I’m really proud of the guys. They competed,” Newton coach Jordan Kopp said. “We talk about controlling the controllables. Things early on didn’t go our way, but the guys didn’t focus on it. They just got back to the grind of a long game and sticking to the process. I’m really proud.
“That’s game No. 27 for us, and 22 wins. I couldn’t be more proud. We always set a goal to get to the district final, and a 3-1 ballgame against Russia — they’ve been playing some good baseball lately, so you’ve got to tip your cap to them.”
It was a particularly valiant effort by the Indians, given that their starting pitcher was only a freshman in Colin Tackett. But Tackett turned in an outstanding effort, scattering seven hits and two walks while striking out three and not allowing an earned run on the night.
“The way Colin Tackett pitched, he competed like crazy,” Kopp said. “He doesn’t have that blow-by fastball, but what he does have is confidence and command. I was really proud of him.”
Newton claimed the momentum in the top of the first inning, too. Senior Ryan Mollette beat out a bunt single to lead off, stole second base with one out and was driven home on a clutch two-out RBI single by Cameron Caldwell that made the score 1-0 Indians.
“That’s our baseball,” Kopp said. “Stealing a base to get a guy home on a single, that’s what we do.”
In the bottom of the first, though, things took a turn.
With one out, Jordan York grounded to short, but the throw pulled Newton’s first baseman off the bag. He appeared to get his foot back onto the bag and the out call was made, but the first-base umpire was overruled by the home-plate and third-base umpires — with neither having the view he did of the back of the bag where the first baseman’s foot was. After a single by Carter Francis and a fielder’s choice that would have ended the inning if not for the overturned call, Grant Saunders singled to left field to tie the score at 1-1. After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Gavin George sent an RBI single back up the middle, and Russia led 2-1 after one complete.
“I think mentally, our kids did fine,” Kopp said. “That was a tough one, especially in the first inning, you know. In a situation like that, it’s a tough one to change, but they did. And I’m proud of my guys. They didn’t let that affect them too much. They scored a couple runs there, but overall I was really happy with the way the guys competed after that.”
In the third, Will Sherman doubled to lead off the inning and Saunders beat out a bunt single to put runners on the corners. Russia sent Sherman in motion on a squeeze bunt, but the Indians called a pitchout and caught him in a rundown to erase one insurance run.
“Defensively, we played well. At one point, we called a pitchout and caught them on a squeeze,” Kopp said. “I knew that’s what was coming, we worked on that this week and the guys executed. We can’t ask for anything more from them.”
With two outs, though, a bobbled grounder to third allowed Saunders to score, giving the Raiders a 3-1 lead.
That would be more than enough for Monnier, who made sure Newton didn’t threaten again. He retired 15 straight batters after the end of the first inning, with a two-out walk to Charlie Walker and a single by Caldwell snapping that string in the top of the sixth. He got a groundout to first to get out of that jam, though, and after a two-out single by Mitchell Montgomery in the top of the seventh, he struck out a pinch-hitter to end the game.
Monnier allowed five hits and one earned run, striking out seven and walking one on the night. Offensively, Saunders was 2 for 3 with an RBI, George had an RBI and Sherman doubled.
For Newton, Caldwell was 2 for 4, the only Indian with multiple hits.
In 2017, Russia defeated the Indians 12-2 in six innings in the district final, and in 2015 the Raiders defeated Newton 3-2. According to Kopp, the last time Newton won a district title was 1995.
“We started two freshman and four or five sophomores tonight. And I think that gives a lot of credit to our three seniors and what they’ve done, being able to lead these younger guys. It’s going to be tough to look forward when losing those three seniors — Ryan Mollette, Nate Zielinski and Charlie Walker — that have meant so much to the program. But starting a freshman on the mound and a freshman behind the plate in a district final, the future does look bright. But we’re going to miss those three guys like crazy. That will be the hardest thing, not showing up for practice on Thursday.
“The game didn’t go our way, but that’s high school baseball. Anything can happen.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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