High school baseball: A closer look at Columbus-Russell County

dmitchell@ledger-enquirerMarch 15, 2013 

It was a non-region game and both coaches downplayed the result between the Russell County and Columbus baseball teams, but the Warriors’ victory at the Blue Devils on Thursday was nothing if not important.

The win was the first in the series for Russell County since the inaugural game in 2006, following five consecutive losses to one of the elite programs in the state of Georgia.

The Warriors brought some balance to the rivalry in a season where they proved they were stronger on paper and on the field.

It certainly builds momentum for Russell County, which had been stuck in neutral over its first 15 games of the season. It hadn’t exactly struggled, but it couldn’t quite match the offensive success of last season.

At 10-6, the Warriors have scored five seventh-inning runs over their last two games. It’s something to build on for a team that has high aspirations in 2013.

Pitching was a key for Russell County, as it was led by a complete-game effort from Jesse Nelson. He gave up three runs over seven innings, striking out eight.

If this game can be a launching pad for the Warriors, they may be a team to keep an eye on at the state level in Alabama going forward.

For Columbus, don’t get too worried. This team may be 4-3, but it hasn’t lost a game inside the state. It might not be the same team it was a year ago, but there is still plenty of talent.

Sure, this was a season that Russell County had the edge in talent, but Columbus will improve as the season goes along. This team will still contend.

Turning point

After Russell County gave up its lead in the bottom half of the sixth inning and entered the seventh tied 3-3, Hunter Webb led off with a triple that set up the go-ahead run. He scored on a passed ball and another run game in on an RBI single from Nelson. After retaking the lead in the final frame, the Warriors closed it out as Nelson struck out the final two Columbus batters of the game.

Key performance

Webb may have had the big hit, but Nelson led the way both offensively and defensively. At the plate, Nelson was 2 for 3 with an RBI, but it was his pitching performance that made the difference. After struggling with his breaking ball throughout the early part of the season, Nelson took command of his curveball, using it to help strike out eight batters. The Columbus hitters were off balance and never could gain their footing.

Key decision

There were moments, specifically in the sixth inning, where it looked like Nelson may have needed relief to finish the game. He gave up the tying run on an RBI single by Columbus’ Will Kilgore, and Kilgore stood at second base as the go-ahead run with just one out. Russell County coach Tony Rasmus left Nelson in, however, and he retired the last five batters he faced, three of which came via the strikeout.

What it means

Well, on paper it doesn’t mean much. It’s a non-region/area game and won’t affect either team’s postseason standing. It is, however, a building rivalry. As a game between the two best teams in the area, it’s a confidence builder for the winner. Chalk that up to Russell County going forward.

Noteworthy statistic

There was just one extra-base hit in the game, coming on Webb’s triple to lead of Russell County’s half of the seventh inning. It was better late than never as Webb came on to score the go-ahead run.

Quotable

“Those teams that have nine guys who can run, that really stresses a defense. That’s what Hunter (Webb) is for us. He’s a player for us and he can make some noise on the base paths.” –Tony Rasmus, Russell County coach on Webb’s seventh-inning triple

Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.

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