By Jason Brassell
It must be nice to still have an area series left to play with a playoff berth already clinched. This is exactly the situation Russell County finds itself in as it prepares for games this week against Opelika. The Warriors used clutch pitching, key hitting, and quality defense to win two big games against Benjamin Russell last week in a big time Class 6A Area 6 matchup that Warrior Coach Tony Rasmus wasn’t too confident going into.
“Well, I can say that going into the series with Benjamin Russell, I thought they were the more talented team and that we were going error free and walk free baseball just to have a chance,” Rasmus said. “In addition, I thought our pitchers were probably going to have to pitch above their talent levels and we would need to have someone step up and get a big hit or two. I was thinking that it didn’t feel like we had much of a chance to win the series to be honest. Benjamin Russell pitches the ball as good as any team we’ve played this year.”
Rasmus was right, as he found his team in somewhat of a pitcher’s duel, trailing 1-0 all the way up until the top of the sixth. Zac Rice and Zach Henderson reached base on a single and a botched fielder’s choice, leading up to the big hit that Rasmus said they would need. That gave Russell County all the momentum they needed. That hit came from Trysten Dozier in the form of a clutch double that brought both Rice and Henderson in to score, giving the Warriors all of the momentum they needed. Rice then provided a much needed insurance run in the top of the seventh with an RBI single, putting the Warriors up 3-1. That would be the final score.
On top of scoring the go ahead run, Henderson also provided the Warriors a quality start on the mound. The junior went five innings, giving up only four hits and one earned run, with six strikeouts. Logan Austin came in and picked up the save. Rice ended up going 3-for-4 with one run batted in. The quality defense played by the Warriors was also a big contributor in the win, making Rasmus happy.
“We got a really great performance on the mound in game one from Zach Henderson,” Rasmus said. “He kept us in the game and gave us a chance. Zac Rice had three hits and Trysten Dozier had a huge two-out, two-run double in the sixth to put us ahead.”
With possible bad weather on the way in Seale, Thursday’s Game 2 was moved up a couple of hours. Much like the first game, both teams had talented pitchers starting. Also, much like the first game and just like Rasmus said, Russell County needed someone to step up and get a big hit or two.
That happened immediately, as Zac Rice led off the bottom of the first inning with a big homerun to centerfield. The Warriors’ momentum continued in the first, as Austin Embry singled and came around to score on a single from Zach Henderson, giving Russell County a 2-0 lead heading into the second inning. More fireworks were provided by the Warriors in the bottom of the second, as eighth grader Colton Wombles blasted the ball over the fence to give Russell County a 3-0 lead.
Benjamin Russell tried to muster a comeback in the top of the third, but was only able to come up with two runs off of two-run scoring singles and an error. The pitchers really settled in after that third inning, ending in Russell County clinching the playoff berth with a 3-2 win.
Logan Austin was looking good to go the distance on the mound for the Warriors before he reached the maximum number of pitches under AHSAA rules. He ended up pitching 6-1/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned run), and striking out 10. Austin Embry came on in relief with one out in the top of the seventh inning. He shut down both hitters, striking out one. The Warriors were led at the plate by Rice and Wombles with the huge homeruns and Henderson with the big RBI.
It was obvious to Rasmus how similar the two games were.
“In Game 2, more of the same. Logan Austin pitched really well to keep us in the game,” Rasmus said. “Zac Rice and Colton Wombles hit big homeruns to put us ahead. Zach Henderson also came up big for us with a RBI in the game,” Rasmus said. “I left feeling like Benjamin Russell was probably better than we were, but our kids just made a few more plays than they did.”
The No. 1 ranked Warriors currently have a 23-0 record at home and will look to stay undefeated in Seale with a Class 6A Area 6 game against Opelika at 5:30 p.m. ET. Russell County (28-3 overall) will then travel to Opelika for a doubleheader scheduled to begin Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET. The last regular season game is scheduled for April 16 at Jordan High School in Columbus.