Battle of the titans: Columbus, Russell County to face off in early-season test

dmitchell@ledger-enquirerMarch 13, 2013 

The Russell County High baseball team enters a contest at 4:15 on Thursday at Columbus with experienced players trying to live up to lofty preseason expectations.

The Blue Devils sport a host of new starters trying to carry on the legacy of one of the most successful teams in the state of Georgia.

Neither team, arguably the best two the Bi-City has to offer this season, has performed at the level most expect them to yet, but that can all change at the swing of a bat.

“I’ve tried about 20 different ways to figure out a solution to early-season woes,” Russell County coach Tony Rasmus said. “After about 15 games, we’re about .500 every year. I don’t know what it is. … We’re never in panic mode, though. If it was different any other year, I’d be stressed. But this isn’t new. In the end, we just have to play.”

Thursday will be a good opportunity.

Facing one of the most successful baseball programs in the state of Georgia, one Rasmus considers to be among the best coached in the entire Southeast (“maybe even the country”), Russell County will have opportunities to judge where its talented team stands and also to improve against top-notch competition.

Despite being a non-area game, Rasmus said he believes this is a game that could inspire his players to put things together on the field.

“I definitely think this may be the one game that’ll get us up so far this year,” he said.

Columbus has beaten Russell County in five of their six meetings since they started playing in 2006. And, despite the graduation of several of its top players, Rasmus believes Columbus will be as tough to beat as any other year.

“(Columbus coach Bobby Howard) is so modest about his guys,” Rasmus said. “But I’ll tell you, we’ll be fortunate if we can play with them. We may have as much talent as they do this year, but they’re going to have a good player at every position.”

Rasmus said the key for his team will be whether its bats come alive.

The team’s batting average, which is a fraction south of .300, isn’t so bad, but its 4.6 runs per game are off the pace Rasmus expects out of his club. Seniors Anfernee Grier (.412 average), Hunter Webb (.389) and Trevor Davis (.352) lead the way at the plate for the Warriors.

“We’re just going to have to hit better,” Rasmus said. “They’re going to play good defense. They have smart players who are going to know how to play the game. We just have to hit the ball better.”

Rasmus said he will throw his No. 1 starter, Jesse Nelson, and expects him to compete at a high level. Rasmus’ hitters will face either Tony Dalponte or Will Bice.

Howard echoed the same praise for Russell County that he received from Rasmus, noting that the situation in this year’s game is a little different than in the past.

“The shoe’s on the other foot a little bit this time,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a test to see if we can compete.”

Like Russell County, the bats haven’t quite come alive for Columbus, but Howard said the team was more focused in improving defensively.

“We’ve got to get a lot better and consistent on defense,” he said. “We’ve made too many errors. The pitchers have been pretty good. We’ve just got to play catch behind them.”

At the plate, Columbus is led by A.D. Young and Dalponte, who are hitting .411 and .421, respectively.

For Columbus, too, it will be a good barometer to see how far the team has come and how far it has left to go.

“I respect not only their teams, but their players and the way they carry themselves,” he said. “They’re well-disciplined. They’re good. Their teams are a good test.”

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.

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