The Russell County baseball team has had its eyes set on Spanish Fort for awhile.
It's not that the players and coaches weren't giving their full attention to their first, second and third-round opponents. It's just that the state semifinal is a place the Warriors expected to be. They also expected their opponent to be Spanish Fort, the team that ousted Russell County from the playoffs last season.
They knew that to reach their ultimate goal of winning a state championship, it would have to go through the Toros.
That's who the Warriors (42-6) will get at 6 p.m. on Friday as they travel to Spanish Fort (41-7) for a best-of-three series in the Class 5A state semifinals. A win in this series would send Russell County to its first title series since 2007.
Never miss a local story.
"You hate to say this at this stage of the game, but we expected to win those first three rounds," coach Tony Rasmus said. "Every series we won, we wouldn't talk about the next series. We'd ask what we did wrong in this series that would cost us against Spanish Fort.
"In every game that we won, the walks, the hit batters and errors stand out to me, because (Spanish Fort) will score the majority of those runs. That's what we've pointed out to our kids -- if we do that, they're going to beat us."
In Rasmus' estimation, that's what cost the Warriors against the Toros, who have won three straight state championships, last season. He has said on a few occasions that he believes his team was more talented than Spanish Fort last year, but that the Toros outplayed them on the field.
"They may not have the best talent on the field all the time, but, man, they play good," Rasmus said. "They've got that air of invincibility. Confidence really goes a long way."
He echoed a sentiment given by Columbus coach Bobby Howard after the Blue Devils' series loss on Wednesday.
"It's like what (Howard) said yesterday: If you give a good team freebies, they're going to beat you," he said. "That's how they beat us last year. Of all the runs they scored, I want to say seven of 11 were from a walk, a hit batter or an error. That's how they beat us. They didn't give us one free run. Everything we got, we had to earn. They don't give free passes."
This year, the Warriors may not be as talented, but there is still plenty good up and down the lineup. Rasmus said he thinks the series will be a pretty even matchup.
The Warriors plan to go with the same pitching rotation as they have in the first three rounds, throwing Jesse Nelson in Game 1 and Todd Dial in Game 2.
"They've got one loss between them, so if Spanish Fort beats us, I'll tip my cap to them," Rasmus said.
The Warriors have won 34 straight games, which raises the question of what they will do when faced with the adversity of a loss. Rasmus said he's not too worried about it simply because of the team Russell County is up against.
"If you can't get fired up to play Spanish Fort, you need to quit and take up church league softball," he said. "There's going to be tons of people, and they're going to be ugly.
"They're going to be nasty and mean, and if that can't get you fired up then you're in the wrong line of business. I expect us to be ready to play."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter
Russell County baseball star Anfernee Grier was listed among MaxPreps' top 10 high school outfield prospects for the 2013 MLB draft on Thursday.
Grier is hitting .400 this season with six home runs, 53 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. Before a 1-for-8 swoon in last week's sweep of Marbury, the right fielder had gotten hits in 13 of his previous 27 at-bats.
Grier has signed to play baseball at Auburn, but could elect to sign a professional contract if he is taken high in the draft.