Franklin’s Aaron Blake connects for a single during their Division II district championship baseball game against Fenwick on May 24 at Miamisburg. Franklin won 11-2. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep baseball: Ross, Franklin set to face off in Division II regional

The Ross High School baseball team is well aware of the program’s history at the regional stage of the Ohio High School Athletic Association postseason tournament.

First-year head coach Ben Toerner said his players haven’t stopped talking about the opportunity that lies before them as they have a chance to become the first Ross team to advance to a regional championship.

The Rams (23-5), coming off a third straight district title, square off against Franklin (25-6) in a Division II regional semifinal Thursday at Mason.

» RELATED: Franklin routs Fenwick to win district crown

» RELATED: Walkoff gives Ross third straight district title

“We’ve won five district titles, but never made it to a regional title game,” the 26-year-old Toerner said. “It’s something the boys won’t shut up about. Being our third (district title) in a row, they know the history. All the boys that have been here and done this, they want to be the team that made it a little further than everyone else.”

For Franklin, which also is playing under a first-year coach in Kyle Wainscott, this is just icing on the cake. Coming off a 12-11 finish in 2018, the Wildcats kept their goals a little more modest this year as they set sights simply on winning a Southwestern Buckeye League title and getting through sectionals.

They’re now a few steps further after claiming the program’s first district title since 2013 when Boston Red Sox pitcher Travis Lakins — older brother of sophomore first baseman Gunner Lakins — was on the team. This is Franklin’s seventh regional tournament appearance.

Ross pitcher Trevor House is about to send a pitch toward the plate last Thursday during a Division II district baseball final against Springfield Kenton Ridge at Hamilton’s Stang Field. Ross won 1-0. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

“We weren’t thinking about a district title at the beginning of the year,” said Wainscott, who is 29 years old. “Our goals were to win the league and be sectional champions, and anything beyond that is just awesome for the kids and community.”

Franklin is a well-rounded team, showing an ability to win low-scoring games with strong pitching and defense and timely hitting and also being capable of offensive outbursts like their 11-2 win over Fenwick in the district final.

Wainscott said his team just needs to “do what we do” and not overthink things against Ross, though the Wildcats are aware of the challenge ahead.

» RELATED: CCS gets regional semifinal rematch

“They are just focused on the task at hand,” Wainscott said. “That’s the mentality of our whole athletic department, just win the next one and keep advancing. We know they are good, so we have to bring our ‘A’ game and get a little lucky.”

Ross is a team that is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Although just four starters returned from last year, the veterans have helped the newcomers feel more relaxed, and they’ve developed into a close-knit unit, Toerner said.

“Watching the past couple teams get here, some of them were part of those teams, it almost feels like every year there are less nerves going into that game,” Toerner said. “They feel more comfortable in that situation of ‘this is it or we are done.’ The experience of doing it has helped. It’s not an expectation per se, but it’s always a goal now.”

Toerner said it’s “pretty neat” that two first-year coaches were able to make it this far, but it just goes to show the quality of players they both have.

Ross is led by Keegan Nickoson, who is batting .386 with 26 RBIs, as well as Ethan Hall (.367, 15 RBIs) and Cooper Shields (.355, 26 RBIs). On the mound, Trevor House is 5-0 with a 1.55 ERA, Paul Schroeder is 5-2 with a 2.75 ERA and Shields is 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA and two saves.

Aaron Blake leads Franklin at the plate with a .462 average and 31 RBIs, while Clayton Black is hitting .387 and Gunner Lakins .357 with 25 RBIs. Casey Judy (7-0, 2.26 ERA), Tytus Tussey (2-2, 2.93 ERA) and Black (4-2, 3.46 ERA) are the top three pitchers.

“The fact we’re both first-year coaches playing in a regional semifinal game says a lot about the quality of our two programs,” Toerner said. “It speaks to all the coaches that have had their hands in there with these boys and the fact we both came into good situations and hit the ground running. It’s great for both of us.”

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