By Jason Brassell
There are eight teams left in the Alabama Class 6A playoffs and the top ranked Russell County Warriors are one of those teams. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this point, with the Warriors having done what they have to do week in and week out to stay on top as the No. 1 team in Class 6A. Head coach Tony Rasmus is very proud of what the Warriors have accomplished so far, but also knows that they have their work cut out in the third round of the playoffs.
“First off, let me say that I’m under no illusions of grandeur. We have gotten a really great draw in these playoffs. Stanhope in Round 1 and Dothan in Round 2 are both teams we should beat. The fact that we did is a positive, because our kids did what they should have done,” Rasmus said.
Going into the series Game 1 had the making of a pitcher’s duel, as Russell County’s Logan Austin faced off against Dothan’s Chase Alsup. Neither pitcher disappointed, as both teams were held scoreless in the first three innings. The Warriors got on the board in the fourth inning, courtesy of a two run triple from eighth-grader Colten Wombles.
Austin continued to pitch a gem, holding the Tigers scoreless, while Russell County was able to add one run in the fifth inning and one run in the sixth inning. The Warriors added two more runs in the seventh inning to put Dothan away by a final score of 6-0. Wombles, Jackson Huguley, Zac Rice, and Austin Embrey led the Warriors at the plate. In addition to Wombles’ big hit to get the Warriors on the board, Huguley went 2-for-4. Zac Rice had a triple and scored two runs, while Embrey had a big run scoring double. Austin pitched a complete game shutout, only allowing one hit, while striking out 15 batters.
Rasmus was proud of the way his team played against such a strong pitcher.
“I thought Logan pitched really well in game 1 against Chase Alsup, who is also an Auburn commit,” Rasmus said. “Both kids were throwing 90-plus miles per hour, with great breaking balls. Our bunch did a great job of taking advantage of a mistake or two and getting a big hit in a couple of situations to secure the win. Chase was the best pitcher we’ve seen this year.”
Game 2 found the Warriors having to bring Embrey out from behind the plate to get the start on the mound. The junior provided the Warriors with a solid game, only allowing two runs in the first five innings. Russell County’s bats put Embrey in a good position to get the win by putting up one run in the second inning, one run in the third inning, and two runs in the fourth inning.
The game was put away in the fifth inning, as the Warriors put up seven runs to take the lead with a score of 11-2. Each team scored a run in the sixth inning and Dothan was able to put up three runs in the seventh, before the Warriors’ pitchers were able to put the game and the series away. Sophomore Adam Depew and freshman Mason Dozier each pitched one-third of the seventh inning to relieve Embrey and get the 12-6 win. Austin showed that he can do damage at the plate, not just while he is on the mound. The junior got three hits in four at bats, with two of those hits being extra base hits in the form of a double and a home run. He also had three runs batted in. Rice was 2-for-3 with a double and a home run, while Embrey was 2-for-4. Zach Henderson was 1-for-2 with two RBIs, while eighth grader Jaxon Yoxtheimer had a big double and two RBIs.
Rasmus was proud of his team for being able to clinch the best two out of three series in two games, and especially proud of Embrey for getting the win in the second game.
“In game two we threw our catcher because our No. 2 pitcher had a sore shoulder. We think Austin Embrey is one of the best catchers in the state, so we don’t like taking him out from behind the dish. He’s a team guy and told me he’d do what he had to do for the team. He pitched well, until he ran out of gas late in the game. It was two big wins for sure to get us to the Elite 8, which is pretty good for our team with as much youth as we have.”
Russell County enters the third round of the playoffs with a 36-3 record. Their opponent will be Chelsea, which comes in with a 21-12 record. The Hornets made it to the third round by upsetting Faith Academy, the No. 6 ranked team in Class 6A. Although Chelsea is unranked, Rasmus says they will easily be the best baseball team Russell County has faced all year.
“I went to Mobile Friday to watch the Faith versus Chelsea series and came away feeling like Chelsea was really talented, well coached, athletic, and easily the best team we will face this year. They have two better than average pitchers, while they swung the bats really well, and were above average defensively. Like I told our kids; we will have to be at our very best this week to have even the smallest of chances against Chelsea.”
Game 1 of the best two out of three series is scheduled for May 2 at 6 p.m. Game 2 will follow after a short intermission, with Game 3 coming the next day, if necessary. Russell County comes into the series with a 13 game win streak and a perfect 26-0 home record. Rasmus asks for fans to get there early and be ready to get loud, as the Warriors will need all the help they can get. A quarterfinal win would pit No. 1 Russell County against the winner of the series between No. 10 Benjamin Russell and No. 2 Hillcrest in the semifinals.