By Chad Dixon
The second round of the Class 6A state baseball playoffs pitted No. 1 Russell County (38-3) against No. 3 Saraland (28-11) on April 27 at Russell County High School. The pitching and defense of the Warriors versus the Spartans’ offense was what was expected. The Warriors scored 14 runs combined in a two-game sweep of Saraland (7-6 and 7-5).
“Friday’s games were certainly something different for us this year. We have won with pitching all year and decided to not pitch really well Friday and hit a little more,” said Russell County’s Head Coach Tony Rasmus.
Sophomore second baseman Hunter Donaldson led the Russell County offense going 4-for-7 with five RBI, two home runs and two doubles. No hit was bigger than his two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to give Russell County a 7-6 lead.
“Down 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth and Hunter cranks a two-run jack and then beats his chest running around the bases and is mobbed at the plate. Wow! It got me jacked up and it really got our kids going. Huge clutch hit to win game one,” Rasmus added.
Russell County starting pitcher Hunter Milam retired the first six batters he faced in game one of the series. Zane Faulk hit a one-out double in the bottom of the first and scored when Logan Austin doubled to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead. Donaldson hit a two-run double in the bottom of the second to extend the lead to three.
Saraland scratched out a run with a double and a single in the top of the third to cut the lead to 3-1. The top of the fifth was unusual to say the very least for the Russell County ace. Milam walked five of the first six batters he faced to tie the game at three. Michael Milner hit an RBI single to cap of the Spartans’ five-run fifth.
Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the sixth, Zac Rice hit an RBI single with two out to score Zach Henderson who reached on a walk earlier in the inning. Trysten Dozier scored on an infield error to cut the deficit to 6-5. Donaldson deposited the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to give the Warriors a one-run lead.
Henderson picked up the win. He pitched an inning and two-thirds. He allowed one hit, one walk and struck out a batter. Kobe Van Bogart pitched the seventh to notch the save. He allowed one hit and induced three ground balls to retire the side and give Russell County a win in Game 1 of the series.
The Warriors scored three runs in the first and second innings of Game 2 on Friday to jump out to an early 6-0 lead. Donaldson doubled to lead off the game. Faulk singled to put runners at the corners. Austin reached on an error later in the inning later with Donaldson and Faulk scoring on the play. Austin Embrey hit an RBI single to extend the lead to three.
Rice singled to start the second inning. Donaldson then walked ahead of a three-run homer run by Faulk to dead center. Austin allowed just three hits and a walk through the first four innings. The Spartans scored five runs on four hits in the fifth to cut the Warriors’ lead to one. Van Bogart would enter the game in the sixth and allow no hits in two innings to shut the door on the Spartans to record his second save of the night. He struck out three.
Austin picked up the win. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits through five innings. He struck out eight and walked a pair. Faulk was 3-for-4 in Game 2. He scored twice, drove in three runs and doubled.
“Logan (Austin) was good per usual early on and then he was hit in the thigh while batting and has a deep thigh bruise on his plant leg. He had a tough time landing on that leg and subsequently struggled. He was trying to gut it out and then Saraland hit him again in the elbow and that thing swelled up as big as a softball so we had to take him out,” Rasmus said.
Henderson came in for Hunter (Milam) and held Saraland where they were and then Kobe Van Bogart came in both games to save us and the games. It was a spectacular effort considering Kobe was having back spasms. It was a tough night physically for the pitching staff. “
The Warriors will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on May 4 to play the Area 7 runner-up Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (24-10) at 6 p.m. ET. The Patriots swept Chelsea last weekend in the first round.