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By Jason Brassell
The Russell County Warriors are headed to the second round of the AHSAA Class 6A playoffs and it’s doubtful they’ll have as dominant of a playoff series as the one they just had against Stanhope Elmore. While the weather forced the first two games to be moved from Friday to Saturday, it was just delaying the inevitable for the Mustangs. The Warriors were clicking on the mound, in the field, and in the batter’s box.
Logan Austin got the start in the first game of the double header and he did not disappoint. The ace pitcher started the game off with two strikeouts in the first inning and just continued from there. The Russell County bats also jumped out to a good start in the bottom of the first. Leadoff hitter Zac Rice jumped on the first pitch he saw for a single. Austin Embrey then worked himself out of a 0-2 jam and drew a walk. Jackson Huguley, who is normally known for his power, laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third. Austin then came up to the plate and generated the first run of the game with an infield hit. Russell County ended the first inning with a 1-0 lead.
The top of the second inning was all Austin. While he did allow a couple of base runners via a walk and a hit batsman, he made sure the Mustangs wouldn’t do any damage by striking out the other three batters he faced. While Russell County couldn’t get anything going in the bottom of the second, neither could Stanhope Elmore in the top of the third. Austin did allow his first hit of the ballgame, but he also struck out another batter.
The bottom of the third inning is when the Warriors made their move. The inning started with Austin making it to first base via a walk, with Trysten Dozier moving him over with a sacrifice bunt. Zack Henderson then came up to the plate and ripped a base hit to score Austin. Colten Wombles came up next and put on the jets to outrun a ground ball. Jaxon Yoxtheimer got in on the action by drawing a walk to load the bases. Lane Griggs hit a high chopper in the infield that was basically impossible to make a play on, putting the Warriors up 3-0. It was Rice’s turn to get in on the action and he delivered with a RBI liner to left field. Embrey followed Rice’s RBI single with another base hit to left field, making the score 5-0. Austin finished up the scoring in the inning by drawing a bases loaded walk, giving the Warriors a 6-0 lead going into the fourth.
Austin forced two groundouts, then delivered his seventh strikeout of the game for a three-up and three-down top of the fourth. The Warriors also went three-up and three-down in the bottom of the fourth. The Mustangs tried to get something going in the top of the fifth, loading the bases with two walks and an infield single. That’s when Austin did what good pitchers do and worked his way out of the jam by putting down the last batter with his second strikeout of the inning. The Warriors were able to get runners on first and 2nd in the bottom of the fifth via a Griggs walk and an Embrey base hit up the middle, but weren’t able to move them around.
It was then time for the sixth inning and once again, Austin was dealing. He forced a groundout and fanned two more batters for his tenth and eleventh strikeouts for the game. That’s when the Warriors’ bats came alive again. Dozier started the inning off with a line drive base hit to centerfield, followed by a Henderson walk. Wombles got in on the action with a perfectly placed pop fly over right side of the field to load the bases. Yoxtheimer was able to score the runner from third with a groundout, putting the Warriors up 7-0 with runners on second and third. A passed ball scored another run before Griggs was able to generate a run with a sacrifice fly to put Russell County up 9-0.
One more strikeout from Austin started off the top of the seventh, while he also forced a groundout. Wombles came in to get the last out of the game, putting the Warriors up 1-0 in the series. Of course, Logan Austin got the win for the Warriors. He struck out 12 batters total and only allowed one ball to be hit out of the infield, a flyout to left field. It was really a team effort at the plate for Russell County, with eight of the nine batters reaching base.
After a down period between games, Stanhope Elmore took the field as the home team for the second game of the double header. They probably wished they could have stayed in the dugout, as the Russell County bats came alive in the top of the first and didn’t stop for a while.
Things looked good at first for the Mustangs when they were able to strikeout Rice. What followed did not look good. Seven straight hits put the Warriors up 5-0. Embrey started things off with a double to right center, followed by a single from Huguley. Austin, Dozier, and Henderson all followed up with RBI singles, while Wombles was able to get on base with a great bunt. Yoxtheimer got in on the action with an RBI single of his own. With two outs, Rice avenged his strikeout to begin the inning with a three-run homerun over the left field fence, putting the Warriors up 8-0. Embery singled for his second hit of the inning, then sole second. Huguley walked, then the Russell County coaches called a double steal to put runners on second and third with one out. Austin and Dozier then both came through with their second RBI singles of the inning. Henderson was hit by a pitch, then Wombles got on base for the second time in the inning with a RBI single. The Warriors finished the first inning beat down with Yoxtheimer getting a single to center field for two runs batted in.
When the damage was done, the Warriors found themselves up 13-0. Each batter in the nine man lineup went up to bat twice in the inning, eight of the nine hitters reached base, and six different batters had at least one RBI. The rest was history, as all Russell County had to do was preserve that 13-0 lead.
The Warriors did come through with five more runs for good measure, while Stanhope Elmore was able to put three runs on the board. Embrey got the win for the Warriors, going 4.1 innings with four strikeouts in the shortened five inning game. Embry also went 4-4 at the plate. Rice was 2-5 with the big three-run homer. Austin was 2-4 with three RBIs, while Wombles went 3-3 with threeRBIs. Yoxtheimer was 3-4 with three RBIs, and Dozier went 2-3 with two RBIs.
The Warriors have an 11-game win streak and are still undefeated at home with a 25-0 record while playing in Seale. Their overall record is now 34-3.
Russell County is scheduled to travel to Dothan today for the second round of the Class 6A playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. EDT, with a second game to follow. Game 3 would be Friday, if necessary. The two teams have faced off twice this season, with the Warriors defeating the Tigers 11-0 and 10-0. The winner of this series is set to face the winner of the series between Faith Academy and Chelsea.