Ohio Spotlight Game: D-III State Final - #3 Champion vs #1 Hiland

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By: Bruce Hefflinger
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Ohio Spotlight Game: D-III State final - #3 Champion vs #1 Hiland

COLUMBUS – The front of the jersey says it all - Champion.

The Golden Flashes of Champion lived up to the name with a 1-0 win over defending champ Berlin Hiland in the Division III state title game on Saturday morning.

Sophomore Andrew Russell threw like a veteran in a seven-hit shutout for the third-ranked Flashes, winners of their first state title.

“To beat the number one team in the state as a sophomore, I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Champion third-year head coach Rick Yauger. “He’s a competitor and a gamer. On day two I’ll match us up with anyone in the state.”

Russell was given all the support needed in the bottom of the first when Lucas Nasonti was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Kyle Forrest and scored on a single up the middle by Michael Turner.

Turner RBI 1B“If I could write a script with the winning run in scoring position it’s number 10 (Turner) at the plate,” Yauger said of the senior catcher headed to Kent State.

Hiland, which had a 47-game winning streak snapped in falling to 31-1 on the year, threatened time and again against the Champion right-hander leaving 10 on base including six in scoring position.

“That’s a credit to the man in the middle of the diamond,” Yauger said of getting out of jam after jam. “We knew he’d battle every pitch, every inning.”

The Hawks looked ready to score in each of the third, fourth and fifth innings only to be turned away by the Flashes.

In the third, Michael Miller singled and Derek Miller walked before a Christopher Kline sac bunt. But a ground out and pop out ended the threat. A frame later, a Ryan Hershberger double and Andrew Miller sac had a runner on third with one out but Russell recorded two of his eight Ks to close out the frame. Hiland loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth on singles by Tyson Gingerich and Bryan Yoder and a Hershberger walk. However, a foul out kept the Hawks off the board.

Russell surrendered seven hits while walking two in addition to the eight strikeouts throwing 73 of 110 pitches for strikes.

“His composure put us in position to win the biggest baseball game in school history,” Yauger said of Russell, who also had one hit to go along with a pair of base knocks in the 2-1 semifinal win over Clear Fork.

Hot Takes

Stat of the game: Ten runners left on base by Hiland is the obvious stat that stands out.

Staying relaxed: It was hard not to like the mentality of Russell on the mound. Dancing to the music in between innings, bouncing the baseball off his bicep as his coach came out for a visit, staying loose in what could be a time to be tight - especially for a sophomore - was refreshing to witness.

Strong in defeat: Overlooked by Russell’s performance was a four-hit complete game by Hiland’s Mitchell Massaro. The senior walked a pair and struck out three, not allowing a Champion baserunner past second base after the first inning. A year ago Massaro was the winning pitcher in Hiland’s state championship game.

Year of the catcher: It has been a long time since there were this many standouts behind the plate at the state tourney and Champion’s Turner is among them. The left-handed hitter had a pair of hits to go along with two in the semifinals, while also catching a foul ball against the net with the bases juiced and two down in the fifth.

Player of the game: Russell. Enough said.

Viewpoint: There is nothing like the electricity in a stadium like Saturday prior to the start of the seventh inning. The defending state champs coming to the plate trailing in a 1-0 game with the top of the order due up. A baseball fan has to love it.  

Notes: Champion’s crown ended a 74-year state-title drought for Summit County. … Despite the defeat, Hiland completed a season in which the Hawks never allowed more than three runs in any of 32 games with 10 shutouts. … The last 1-0 game at the state tournament was Wheelersburg’s D-III state final win over Lima Central Catholic in 2012. The previous 1-0 championship game took place in 2003 and before that it was 1979. … Hiland came up short in its quest to equal the best record in state history held by Jonathan Alder in a 32-0 campaign in 2010. The 31 wins tie for the third most ever in Ohio. … The Hiland loss also means there will be no repeat champion, something done four times (Columbus DeSales 2012, Moeller 2013, Defiance 2016 and Newark Catholic 2016) in the past seven seasons.  

What’s next?: Hiland’s attempt to get back to state for a third straight season will be tested next year with just four starters returning. But with a 248-44 record in 10 years at Hiland, Tom Gibson’s squad can not be counted out. … Four regulars are back for Champion, among them the top two pitchers in Drake Batcho, the winning pitcher in the state semis on Thursday,  and Russell.


Hiland          000 000 0 - 0 7 0
Champion    100 000 x - 1 4 0

Records: Champion 27-3, Hiland 31-1.

Winning Pitcher: Andrew Russell (7 innings, 0 runs, 0 earned, 7 hits, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks).

Losing Pitcher: Mitchell Massaro (6 innings, 1 run, 1 earned, 4 hits, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks).

Leading Hitters: (Hiland) - Tyson Gingerich single; Bryan Yoder 2 singles; Ryan Hershberger single; Mitchell Massaro single; Michael Miller 2 singles. (Champion) - Michael Turner 2 singles; Drake Batcho single; Andrew Russell single.