SPANISH FORT, Ala. -- Russell County coach Tony Rasmus pulled starting pitcher Rock Rucker in the third inning after the lanky left-hander issued his third walk of the day.
"I just felt his command was a little off," Rasmus said.
Rasmus eventually used five more pitchers in Saturday's decisive Game 3 of a Class 5A quarterfinal baseball series against Spanish Fort.
Russell County's six pitchers combined for nine walks and three hit batsmen, allowing the two-time defending state champion Toros to earn a 9-2 victory and eliminate the Warriors (41-12).
"When we've lost games this year, it's been because we've walked people, hit people and made errors behind them," Rasmus said. "Walks and hit by pitch, Spanish Fort makes you pay."
Added Spanish Fort coach Tommy Walker, "You score nine runs when you get 12 freebies."
After splitting Friday's doubleheader -- with Russell County taking a 3-1 win in the opener and the Toros answering with a 6-5 victory -- the Warriors sent Rucker and his 94 mph fastball to the mound. That appeared to be an advantage, as Spanish Fort countered with 5-foot-8, 160-pound sophomore Will Luft, a right-hander making the third varsity start of his career.
Luft pitched like a vet
eran and scattered seven hits, issued no walks and hit only two batters in a complete-game victory. Luft (3-0) defeated 6A semifinalist Fairhope in a regular-season game after getting called up from the junior varsity, and he beat St. Paul's in a first-round game three.
"I just wanted to throw strikes and hit location," Luft said.
The teams played to a 2-2 tie after three innings, although Russell County squandered a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth. Luft got the first out when he fielded a bunt and threw home to force out Jesse Nelson, and then got back-to-back flyouts from Daniel Lee and Hunter Webb.
Spanish Fort loaded the bases in the top of the fifth on a single, a walk and a hit batsman. Matt Hall drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk, Blain Crain drove in a run when he was hit by a pitch, and Tate Godwin broke the game open with a bases-clearing triple to left-center.
"When that happened, you could just see their energy go down and ours went up," Walker said.
Spanish Fort added an unearned run in the seventh when Brian Lane was hit by a pitch, moved to second on Tyler Trammell's single and scored on an error.
Russell County scored a run in the third when Webb reached on a fielder's choice and scored on Anfernee Grier's single. Rucker scored in the fourth when he was hit by a pitch and later scored on Lee's sacrifice fly.
"They don't have a stud prospect," Rasmus said of the Toros, "but they're as good a baseball team as any team we've faced this year. They don't make mistakes. They don't walk you or make errors. Dang it, they're just good. If they don't win it, I'll be shocked."
The high school baseball playoffs continue next week for four Bi-City baseball teams.
Central, which is in the AHSAA semifinals for the first time since 2004, will travel to Fairhope for a doubleheader Friday. If a Game 3 is necessary, it would be played Saturday. Game times have not been announced.
In Georgia, the second round will begin with doubleheaders Wednesday with the if games to be played Thursday.
Columbus, which routed Arabia Mountain 10-0 and 14-0, will host Harlem at 2 p.m. Wednesday in a Class AAA series. Harlem knocked off Eastside 3-1 and 12-3.
In Class AAAA, Harris County will host the East Paulding vs. Redan winner. Those teams started their first-round series Saturday.
In Class A, Brookstone, which swept Metter 2-1 and 9-4, will travel to Charlton County. Charlton swept Baconton Charter 11-1 and 15-2. The Cougars' doubleheader will start at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The time for Thursday's if-necessary game has not been decided.