It's been quite a run for the 18-10 Northwood Rangers.
After struggling during the early part of the season, Northwood has redeemed itself by turning things around and advancing to the Division IV regional finals. By now, they may even be state final four qualifiers.
“We started off very slow, but I think reality (set in), which made us work harder,” said Nick Russell, who's been playing baseball since he was 5-years-old. “It has shown the latter part of the season. Winning the TAAC was one of our goals, but it's not even close to (being) as important as (making it) to the state tournament.”
The Rangers have won five games in the Division IV baseball tournament, defeating league foes Danbury (18-0) and Toledo Christian (10-3) before holding off North Baltimore, 3-2 and then downed another league foe, No. 3 seed Ottawa Hills, 8-6, to win a district championship. It was the sixth consecutive season in which the Rangers and Green Bears have faced one another in the postseason.
|Northwood senior pitcher and all-league
player Nick Russell. (Press photo by Don Thompson/picasweb.google.com)
|Justin Rohrs homered in the win over Delphos St. John's. (Press photo by Don Thompson/picasweb.google.com)
They then went on to defeat perennial state small-school Catholic powerhouse Delphos St. John, 4-3, again in dramatic fashion. On Friday afternoon, the Rangers returned to Patrick Henry fo take in No. 16-ranked Tinora (18-7) for the regional championship and a right to travel to Columbus for the state final four.
“I am very proud of what we've accomplished as a team,” Nick Russell said. “A lot of people might think to themselves that it's just little old Northwood, but I think we can say in the past four years we have proven we can compete with anyone.”
This is only the third Ranger baseball team to advance to the regional final. They broke through and advanced to the state semifinals in 1991 and lost in the regional final in '85, a team that was led by Dave Russell.
In their district semifinal game against the NB Tigers, the Rangers took a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning on a solo home run by Justin Rohrs and two-run home run by Russell. North Baltimore responded with a run in the sixth and added another in the seventh before Russell got the last hitter to pop out with the bases loaded to end it. In addition to his two RBIs, Russell got the job done on the mound, allowing two runs, none earned, on two hits in seven innings of work. He struck out nine and walked four.
Russell also came up big in the Rangers' upset of Toledo Christian in the sectional final, going 3-for-3 with a home run and two RBIs while getting the win on the mound. At least, it seemed like an upset at the time.
In their win over the St. John’s Blue Jays (11-14) in the regional semifinal, Northwood rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take the lead on an opposite-field solo home run by senior Justin Rohrs in the sixth inning. He also had an earlier home run in the fourth inning that tied the game at two runs apiece.
But the most satisfying victory may have come against conference rival Ottawa Hills. The Green Bears, a nemesis of Northwood's for several years, had defeated the Rangers in the playoffs in each of the last four years, including 20-2 last season in the district final, before Northwood was finally able to enact revenge this time around.
Rohrs and Russell have led the way at the plate during the postseason, each of them hitting three bombs in the five games. On the mound, Rohrs is 3-0 and Russell is 2-0 during the run.
In his last two pitching performances, Russell, a four-year starter, has been brilliant, going 2-0 with 0.50 ERA while striking out 19 and walking six. Most especially, he has worked himself out of a number of jams that could've ended Northwood's season. For the year, Russell is 7-3 with a 2.35 ERA. Currently, he is considering playing baseball at NCAA Division II Tiffin University next year.
One step away from the state tournament, things weren't going so well for the Rangers earlier this year. In fact, they started the season 2-7 before turning it around by going 16-3 in the last 19 games, a run that included a nine-game winning streak.
“We started off slow and battled through some internal issues,” said Northwood manager Dave Russell, now in his sixth season at the helm. “We minimized the distractions and focused as a team. Our senior leaders took control of the team and turned us around. And we feel we are peaking at the right time.”
The seniors he's referring to are Nick Russell, who plays shortstop when he's not pitching, Rohrs, the third baseman, 1B John Segura, CF Evan Perkins, RF Jordan Schell and LF Brandon Hoffman. They've all been instrumental to Northwood's success not just this season but in years past as well. Last season, the Rangers advanced to the district final and, in the two years before that, won the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.
“We started off very slow (this season), but I think reality (set in), which made us work harder,” said Nick Russell, who's been playing baseball since he was 5. “It has shown the latter part of the season. Winning the TAAC was one of our goals, but it's not even close to (being) as important as (making it) to the state tournament. I always knew that eventually we would get on the right page.”
The team, which is hitting .339, has Perkins (.346 BA, 7 2B, 28 R) leading off followed by Segura (.412 BA, 8 2B, 30 R), Russell (.506 BA, 6 HR, 38 RBI) and Rohrs (.398 BA, 4 HR, 28 RBI) in the cleanup spot. C Myles Habel, SS/P Jake Davenport, LF Hoffman, 2B Jack Romstadt and Shell round out the lineup.
In addition to Russell and Davenport (1-3, 4.10 ERA), Segura (2-0, 2.63 ERA), Rohrs (4-0, 3.02 ERA) and John Habel (1-0, 4.45 ERA) have pitched as well.
During football season, this group of seniors went 10-1 and won the TAAC hoped to make a run during the postseason. However, the Rangers were upset by Patrick Henry in the first round of the playoffs, 20-19, in a game that saw a number of key calls go against Northwood.
That senior class went 31-11 in football, advanced to the playoffs four times and won three TAAC titles.
Nick Russell has done some great things as quarterback of the Northwood Rangers football team. But it may be in baseball where he truly leaves his mark.
Last fall, Russell led the Ranger football team to a 10-1 record, a TAAC championship and an appearance in the Division V playoffs. Russell completed 54-of-90 passes for 1,085 yards and 16 touchdowns and led the team in rushing with 530 yards on 75 carries and two touchdowns.
Russell credits his brother, Erik, a 2011 Northwood graduate, who also played football and baseball for the Rangers, with helping him to work on his technique as a pitcher. Currently, Erik is a sophomore at Manchester University, a school located 35 miles west of Fort Wayne, Indiana.