Russell County, Smiths Station, Hardaway earn All-Bi-City baseball awards

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comJune 8, 2013 

There wasn't a dominant high school baseball team in the Bi-City this past season. There was plenty of individual talent, but it seemed to be spread out more so than in year's past.

The same holds true for the Ledger-Enquirer's All-Bi-City baseball awards as two of the three will be shared.

Marc Skinner, who pitched and played shortstop to lead Smiths Station to a record-setting season, and Russell County's Hunter Webb, who was one of the most dominant players in Alabama, were voted co-players of the year by Bi-City coaches.

Russell County's Jesse Nelson and Hardaway's Cedric Brown were voted co-pitchers of the year.

Brown's coach, Chris Gilstrap, led Hardaway to a region championship and an impressive showing in two postseason series to be named the All-Bi-City coach of the year.

Co-players of the year

Skinner was a dual threat for the Panthers, who were dominant in the regular season before falling in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.

As a batter, he hit .442 and hit 16 doubles. As a pitcher, he was even better, winning eight games

and notching a microscopic 0.48 earned run average.

"I tried to get stronger this year," Skinner said. "Last year, I didn't work out much during the season. This year, I worked out with my brother during the week. I think that was the most important thing I did this season. Usually, when I pitched, I'd wear down, but my arm never wore down this year."

Skinner was one of a host of seniors, but still was called upon as a leader for the team.

"I definitely felt like I had to perform well for us to play well," he said. "But I think it was the same way for a lot of players on our team."

Skinner has signed to play with Troy. He said he doesn't have many expectations yet.

"I just want to play," he said. "No expectations. I just want to play."

Webb pounded out 78 hits and had a .444 average, leading a Russell County team full of talent to the Class 5A state semifinals.

Hitting leadoff, Webb was expected to set the table but also to produce runs when the situation arose. He did both to perfection.

"Being the leadoff, it's really key for me to get on and produce," he said. "When a leadoff batter gets on, that usually keys a lot of runs."

That was never more evident than back-to-back weeks in which Webb hit four of his six home runs.

One week, Webb knocked two home runs in an inning. The next week, in the opening round of the playoffs, he took it a step further by slugging two grand slams in a single inning.

Webb deflected what he did, noting that it takes a team full of players getting on base to hit the grand slams.

"It was crazy, but when you can get up twice in the same inning, and not just get up twice but get up twice with the bases loaded, that just doesn't happen a lot," he said. "It was a cool moment, though."

Webb has signed to play with Alabama.

Co-pitchers of the year

Nelson may have been the most talented pitcher in the area, while Brown may have been the most successful.

Brown went 11-0 with a 0.95 ERA. He threw seven innings in 11 of his 12 games, including three complete-game shutouts.

Gilstrap said it was a comforting thing as a coach to be able to put Brown on the hill and know he'd get a solid performance.

"He was solid for us all year," he said. "He doesn't overpower you, but he goes out and hits his spots and trusts the defense. The results speak for themselves."

Brown struck out only 61 batters in 81 innings, but rarely did batters make solid contact off of him.

Nelson was near perfect, going 12-1 with a 1.18 ERA and striking out 113 batters in 89 1-3 innings. He recorded five shutouts, including one against Spanish Fort in the semifinals of the state playoffs. Like Brown, Nelson said the most important thing for him was to trust his team.

"My game plan on the mound was to throw strikes and let them hit the ball and rely on the team to make plays," he said. "Relying on the team helped me a lot."

Nelson has signed with Troy and expects to come in and contribute right away.

"There's not a lot of pressure really," he said. "I'm just excited for the chance."

Coach of the year

Gilstrap beat out a class of impressive coaches. Russell County's Tony Rasmus had the most successful season, and Jordan's Tony Dmitri ended the biggest drought by leading the Red Jackets to a first-round home playoff game.

Gilstrap, though, took a team that won nine games a season ago and led it into serious contention in the Class AAAAA playoffs.

The Hawks won 25 games and a region championship, pushing Evans to three games before bowing out of the playoffs in the second round.

"We dedicated ourselves to the weight room," Gilstrap said. "We wanted to instill a competitiveness in everything we did, whether the weight room, class, throwing after school. It didn't matter, we always had some sort of competition."

Gilstrap said this season was a step in the right direction, but that the future looks even brighter.

"All of our guys bought into it all," he said. "To me, the big thing is just keeping this going. Whoever is new to the program, they just need to buy into what we're doing. It's easy to buy into when you're winning."

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

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