Now, it’s a rivalry.
After dropping five consecutive contests to its Bi-City rival, the Russell County baseball team came up with a 5-3 win on Thursday at Columbus, the Warriors’ first win in the series since the inaugural game in 2006.
Behind a stellar pitching effort from senior Jesse Nelson and some timely seventh-inning hits, the Warriors (10-6) got a much-needed boost of momentum against the three-time defending Georgia state champs.
“We scored five in the seventh last game and two in the seventh today, so we’re starting to see some signs of life,” said Russell County coach Tony Rasmus, who said earlier this week his team’s hitting had been somewhat stuck in neutral. “The kids aren’t quitting. It’s nice to get some big hits.”
Perhaps the biggest hit of the day came from Hunter Webb, who led off the final frame of a tied game with a triple. The ball wasn’t cleanly hit, popping up near the right-field foul line, but dropped in fair territory. Webb, on contact, said he was going for three and sprinted out of the box. He dove into third head first ahead of the throw.
“I knew I had to get on,” Webb said. “Any ball like that, I’m thinking triple out of the box.”
That hit knocked Blue Devils pitcher Will Kilgore, who had thrown 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief of starter Tony Dalponte, from the game. On reliever Hunter Swilling’s first pitch to the next batter, Webb came in to score on a passed ball, giving Russell County a 4-3 lead.
Trevor Davis followed with a single and, two batters later, scored on an RBI single from Nelson, making the Warriors’ lead 5-3. Davis was 2 for 3 with a run scored and Nelson was 2 for 3 with an RBI.
On the mound, Nelson had superb command of his curveball all game, finishing the final inning with back-to-back strikeouts to end a 1-2-3 seventh and notch the complete-game victory.
All total, Nelson pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and striking out eight.
“I felt great,” Nelson said after the game. “I haven’t had my curveball all year, and that was my main pitch tonight.”
Rasmus had similar thoughts about his senior’s control of his breaking ball.
“Over the last week or so, he’s really worked on getting on top of that breaking ball,” he said. “He had it tonight.”
The two teams traded runs in the first inning.
Russell County forced Columbus starting pitcher Dalponte to throw 36 pitches in the first inning as Webb led off with a walk, Anfernee Grier reached on a dropped third strike and Nelson notched the first hit of the game. Webb came in to score the game’s first run on a passed ball. Swilling led off with a walk and scored an RBI single from Robin Geven to tie the score in the bottom half.
Dalponte threw 26 more pitches in the second before settling down for six in the third, but Russell County struck for two more runs in the fourth on a two-RBI single by Coleson Taylor.
Nick Poskey drove in a run for Columbus in the fourth and Kilgore tied the game with an RBI single in the sixth.
Kilgore, who was solid in relief, picked up the loss for Columbus. Geven led the way at the plate for the Blue Devils, going 3 for 3 with an RBI. Kilgore was 1 for 3 with an RBI.
“We just didn’t do a good enough job competing at the plate,” Columbus coach Bobby Howard said. “Give credit to them. Their pitcher did a great job, but we just couldn’t do anything offensively.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Thursday at Columbus
Russell 100 200 2—5 8 1
Columbus 100 101 0—3 7 1
WP—Jesse Nelson. LP—Will Kilgore. Hitting leaders—Russell County, Hunter Webb 1 for 2 and 2 Rs, Nelson 2 for 3 and 1 RBI, Coleson Taylor 1 for 3 and 2 RBIs; Columbus, Robin Geven 3 for 3 and 1 RBI, Kilgore 1 for 3 and 1 RBI. Records—Russell County, 10-6; Columbus, 4-3. Next—Russell County, Friday vs. Hazel Green; Columbus, Saturday vs. Mill Creek.