Russell pitches Baird to third straight title
By Tom Williams
No one had a better view of watching Baird Brothers become the first winners of three straight Class B championships than Boardman High School graduate Coleman Stauffer.
Now a player with the University of Mount Union, Stauffer was the catcher as Champion High School senior Andrew Russell tossed a five-hit shutout against Knightline to give Baird Brothers a 3-0 victory for a 3-1 championship series victory Tuesday at Bob Cene Park.
“He was throwing unreal, probably his best game of the year,” Stauffer said. “He had all his pitches working and he was hitting his spots.
“It was a great game to catch.”
Stauffer has played four seasons with Baird.
“It’s really cool,” Stauffer said of his team’s hat trick. “It feels great. This [championship] was probably my favorite because it’s my last one in the league.
“This team was so close — really enjoyed it.”
Had Knightline won, a fifth-and-deciding game would have followed. That made for an interesting decision for Baird coach Don Pletcher to make before the first pitch.
Pletcher said he decided to start Russell “because he won a state championship, he’s local.
“There’s no moment too big for him.”
Russell’s 2017 Champion team won the Division III crown. Russell, who will play for Ohio University in 2020, said Pletcher’s confidence in him “means a lot.”
Russell credited his teammates for making plays behind him.
“Incredible defense,” Russell said. “Dayln [Brickner] had a great catch, Tyler Smith made some good plays in right and Josh Hoffman at short.”
Stauffer got into the act, nailing Knightline baserunner Kevin Pollock trying to steal second base in the sixth inning.
Russell scored the game’s first run after he reached base on an infield error in the second inning. With two outs and Russell on third, Smith hit a high-hopper that Knightline pitcher Adam Jannette couldn’t control.
Pletcher disagreed with the scoreboard showing two errors.
“Their pitcher is 6-5, he jumped to his backhand to try and get the ball and [it] went off his glove,” Pletcher said. “No way that was an error.”
But Knightline coach Tom Otto said his players have made similar plays throughout their careers.
“I thought we settled in and played a clean game after that,” Otto said. “We hit the ball better than they did, [we just] did not find holes.”
In the third inning, Stauffer led off with a single and scored on Perry’s sacrifice fly.
Baird scored an insurance run in the seventh inning. With one out, Jacob McCaskey singled, stole second base and scored on Smith’s hit to left field.
“I don’t think they hit Adam very hard, it’s a shame that game ends on mistakes we made defensively,” Otto said. “But [credit] to Baird, they are three-time defending league champs. They had six or seven losses this season and we beat them three times.”
Pletcher praised the ballpark and league staff.
“From Scotty Ruark to Steve Leslie to Bob Beam to Ron Bova who takes care of these fields, these kids are playing on the greatest baseball facility in this country,” Pletcher said. “These guys need acknowledged. I’m just thrilled to be part of this place.”