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By Jason Brassell
There are always positives that you can take out of negative experiences, especially when it comes to sports. After getting knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Alabama 6A playoffs by Chelsea, head coach Tony Rasmus and the Russell County Warriors find themselves in the position of looking for those positives. All anyone has to do to find them is look at the Russell County roster.
The Warriors were able to make it as one of the final eight teams in 6A while playing three eighth graders and one seventh grader on a consistent basis. They will return every player from the roster this year, except for Trysten Dozier. They will also be one of the favorites to go deep into the playoffs again next year.
Rasmus seems to always have a good handle on what he has in a team and had one goal to start the season.
“Every team in the state doesn’t start the year actually believing they can win a state championship. We certainly didn’t. Winning our area was going to be our goal and we achieved that goal. Our team didn’t have the talent to do much more than hopefully win the area.”
He knew that the Warriors would have all they could handle heading into the series. “We knew Chelsea had really gotten hot the last 15 games or so and knew it would be tough for us to win a three game series.”
One thing the Hornets did in all three games of the series was get the bats going early and jump out to early leads. In Game 1, Chelsea was able to score one run in the first inning and five runs in the top of the second inning to take a 6-0 lead. Russell County was able to put up four runs of their own in the bottom of the second to keep the game close. The Warriors put up one more run in the bottom of the fourth to cut Chelsea’s lead to one run. The score stayed the same at 6-5 until the bottom of the seventh inning.
That’s when Logan Austin hit a liner to left field for a single. He was able to steal second base, before Zack Henderson came up to the plate as the Warriors’ last option to tie the game. He did exactly that with a single of his own, sending the game into extra innings.
Starting pitcher Logan Austin was relieved after pitching all seven innings of regulation. Chelsea jumped on the opportunity against a new pitcher to score one run in the top of the eighth. The bottom of the eighth brought the most excitement in the game. Lane Griggs and Austin Embry were able to reach base with two singles, while Jackson Huguley went to the plate after them and loaded the bases with a walk. Austin was then hit by a pitch to tie the game 7-7. It was now Trysten Dozier’s turn to see if he could provide some fireworks for the two out rally.
Many coaches will tell you that a walk is as good as a hit. That saying was absolutely true in Dozier’s case, as he showed incredible patience at the plate in such a tense situation and drew the walk to win the game by a final score of 8-7. It was the exact start the Warriors needed at home. Huguley, Griggs, and Zac Rice each had two hits for Russell County, while Embry came through with three hits of his own. Six different players had an RBI, led by Jackson Huguley with three. Seven different Warriors scored a run in the 8-7 win.
Game 2 started off much the same as game one. This time it was too much for the Warriors to come back from, as the Hornets put up 10 runs in the second inning. Russell County was able to put up five runs in the fourth inning and one run in the fifth as the visiting team, but Chelsea was able to score two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to thwart any type of comeback the Warriors had in mind.
Rice led Russell County at the plate, going 3-for-3 with one run and two RBI. Henderson also went 3-for-3 and scored two runs. Eighth grader Colten Wombles had two hits and a RBI, while fellow middle schooler Jaxon Yoxtheimer had one hit and two RBI. Five different pitchers saw time on the mound for the Warriors.
Chelsea started off Game 3 with three runs in the top of the first inning, but Russell County answered in the bottom of the inning with three runs of its own. The Hornets were able to manufacture a run in the second, third, and sixth innings, while the Warriors didn’t cross the plate again for the rest of the game. The 6-3 win sent Chelsea on to the semifinals and ended the season for Russell County. Embry was able to give the Warriors a pretty strong start, going five and one third innings, giving up five earned runs and striking out five. Seventh grader Bailey Thorne finished the last one and two third innings, striking out one batter and not giving up a run. Henderson had two RBI for the Warriors, while Austin had one RBI. Yoxtheimer had two hits in three at bats.
Rasmus knew what his team needed to do and what his team didn’t need to do in the ever important Game 3.
“Austin kept us close in the game and gave us a chance. We hit some balls hard as the game went on and Chelsea made great play after great play to put us away. We couldn’t afford to give them walks and couldn’t commit errors to have a chance, and we did just that.”
He is proud of what his team accomplished this year and does expect to have an even better season next year.
“All in all it was a great year. We lose one player. Everyone else is coming back and our pitching should be much improved next year. I expect us to go deeper next year for sure.”