Sophomore Jared Middendorf pitched well beyond his years, limiting Russia to just three hits, and claiming a share of the Shelby County League baseball title for himself and his Fort Loramie teammates.
Fort Loramie – It’s coincidence, I’m sure, that Fort Loramie’s Jared Middendorf wears Sandy Koufax’s old number, 32.
In fact, I’d bet it’s coincidence because I’m sure the Loramie sophomore has never heard of Sandy Koufax.
But in fact he pitched like Koufax (and not just lefthanded) Thursday evening in the Shelby County League showdown with rival Russia, limiting the Raiders to just three hits on his way to a 4-0 shutout and a share of the Shelby County League title. Russia, Anna, and Loramie had all beaten each other enough during the regular season so that they each had two league losses, so it came down to whether Russia could win Thursday to split with Loramie for the outright title. Middendorf made sure it didn’t happen.
He struck out six and walked one, but the manner in which he did it was impressive, far beyond ‘sophomoric’. Commanding is the word that best describes it. He pitched ahead, he spotted his fastball, and a tantalizing curveball that looked 20 miles per hours slower was simply too much for Raider hitters to wait on. They were out ahead all day, either swinging and missing, or pounding it in the ground.
His defense did its part, making a couple of sparkling plays in the outfield – right fielder Carter Siegel going to his knees to pick off a line drive off the grass in the third, and then rising to throw a strike to catcher Daniel Berning at home plate to knock off the Raiders’ Clay George with their only serious threat to score in the game.
The offense was just good enough against Russia starter and ace, Hunter Cohee. The Redskins scored an unearned run in the first on a walk, a stolen base, and an error on a ground ball to score their first; and then they strung together four consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly by C.J. Billing in the third – their only four hits of the game – to score three more. Middendorf made it stand up for the win.
“It was fun,” the Redskins’ young lefty modestly proclaimed. “The little hits we got in the third inning all worked out, but my teammates made some nice plays to help me out. Carter Siegel’s throw to the plate was pretty awesome. Little things like that helped out a bunch.”
He’s a man of few words, by the way. A street mime would say more, but Jared Middendorf is not to that point in his baseball mojo yet. He was just happy for the win and for his teammates.
“He really threw a nice game,” said Loramie coach Bill Sturwold. “They hit a couple of balls hard, but they struggled with his breaking pitch and our defense played well. We got a few breaks; Cohee hit a ball that was just barely foul and that can make the difference in a game like this. And that’s how baseball is. Some days things go your way – another day Russia could have easily score three or four runs of their own.”
It raised Loramie’s mark for the season to 17-10, deceptive for the fact of their 10 losses. Sturwold plays all comers, asks no quarter, gives none, and considers the consequences of playing Minster three times, Coldwater, Versailles, Anna and Russia to be nothing less than the kind of experience it takes to carry you through tournament time.
“We’ve played a pretty strong schedule…Minster beat us three times, Anna, Wapak, Coldwater, and Versailles,” said Sturwold. “So these guys have been through it. They’re battle-tested. Middendorf’s velocity had been down a bit in his last two games, but today it was back up and his command was right on the edge. We got to Cohee today before he got settled in, because he’s a good pitcher, and sometimes you’ve got to get good pitchers early and then make it last.”
Which is exactly what Middendorf and company did, in a snappy 84 minutes.
Ironically, Russia coach Kevin Phlipot had rolled the dice Monday to hold his ace back especially for Loramie, but as Sturwold proclaimed…that’s baseball. Sometime it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sturwold is one of the state’s best; and Phlipot, who soon will be, is an old protege’ from his years as an assistant for Sturwold at Loramie. They know each other well. Respectful of each other’s passion for winning, the rivalry between the two schools is front and center when they meet.
“Russia-Loramie is always a fun game,” said Sturwold, a Russia graduate and a fine catcher during his high school playing days. “There were a lot of baseball ‘people’ in the stands here today to watch this. My Little League coaches were here. We know you have to play well to beat Russia because Kevin does such a great job. He was a huge part of our success when he coached with me here, and I know he’s a very good coach and his kids are solid. They don’t make mental mistakes; there were a couple of physical mistakes today, but you can live with that when your kids play hard. And Kevin’s kids play hard.”
It meant a lot to Sturwold’s team to have that share of this year’s title, another banner on the gym wall next winter. And winning, they say, is contagious. It begats more winning and Triad awaits Loramie this week in the tournament draw.
But the way they won Thursday was particularly satisfying because they had to scrap for their four runs, and work hard to make a tenuous lead hold up. It was reminiscent of their best wins in the past – mental toughness, execution, and focus.
“We got a huge sac fly from C.J. Billing in the third with the bases loaded. That was a little thing,” said Sturwold. “But we practice it every day when we hit. It was a good at bat and he came through.”
And if you’ll remember the good wins of the past, there was pitching – Long, Goldschmidt, and Hoying. Which made Thursday’s win all the more fun for Sturwold, with a team starting five sophomores in the field and one very good one on the mound.
The Dodgers had Koufax. Bill Sturwold has Jared Middendorf for another two years.
And notice…to the Russia Raiders and the Shelby County League.