SPANISH FORT, Ala. -- The Russell County baseball team had its big inning in the sixth in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Spanish Fort on Friday. The Toros answered with three breakout innings late in Game 2.
Put together, it was a wash as the two teams split, 5-0 and 8-0, forcing a decisive third game in the best-of-three Class 5A semifinal series.
That game will be played at 2 p.m. today, weather permitting.
Russell County won the opener against Spanish Fort in last season's state playoffs before dropping Games 2 and 3. Coach Tony Rasmus said, despite the loss, his team had given itself a chance to win.
"Look, this is a good team," he said. "We knew it wasn't going to come easy for us. The good news is we did enough in the first game to give ourselves a chance in three.
After a 5-0 win in the first game, the Warriors (43-7) pushed Spanish Fort for four shutout innings before the Toros were able
to break loose with two outs in the fifth inning.
Spanish Fort second baseman Gunner Hendrix walked on a full count with the bases loaded to bring home the first run and center fielder Rob Perteet cleared the bases with a long grand slam to right field. The Toros added two in the sixth, also with two outs, after a hit batter, an infield single and an RBI double by left fielder Matt Hall. Spanish Fort (42-8) finished it off with one more run in the seventh.
Before the first run came across in the fifth, Russell County had a chance to make a play on a fly ball near the fence in foul territory, but was unable to haul it in.
"Catch that pop up in the second game, things could have been different," Rasmus said, before checking himself. "You can't give them extra chances, but there's no use crying over spilled milk at this point. We couldn't touch (pitcher Jesse) McCord anyway."
McCord was dominant, pitching a complete-game shutout and striking out 14 batters.
The loss ended Russell County's 35-game winning streak.
It was the Warriors' first loss since March 9.
Russell County has a chance at Game 3 thanks, in large part, to a standout performance by its own pitcher, Jesse Nelson, in Game 1.
For five innings in the first game of a doubleheader, the two teams matched each other pitch for pitch. In the sixth inning, however, the Warriors seized control in a big way.
Russell County sent nine batters to plate, hitting three home runs and scoring four runs to knock Spanish Fort starting pitcher Ethan Walker from the game.
After Russell County managed just two hits over the first 5 1-3 innings, shortstop Trevor Davis got the action started with a solo home run to right field. Two batters later, Nelson launched a two-run homer to left. Third baseman Anfernee Grier followed with a no-doubter to make it three bombs in four batters, turning a 0-0 game to 4-0 in mere minutes.
"After seeing him twice through the lineup, I think our guys just started to have a good read on him," Nelson said. "Once you see the guy in front of you hit one, you start to feel like you can hit him too. We just started to get some momentum."
Nelson was 2 for 3 at the plate in the first game , driving in two runs and hitting a double to go with his homer. His day at the plate was outdone only by his pitching performance, a complete-game, two-hit shutout of the top-ranked team in the state. He struck out eight batters in the game.
"The way we felt after last year, I just came in here wanting to get things started well," he said.
"(Winning the first one) doesn't relieve much pressure, though.
"Jesse has lost to Spanish Fort two years in a row, so I think he was fired up to face them," Rasmus said.
"He made some good pitches.
"He made them look bad in Game 1 -- about as bad as McCord made us look in Game 2."
Will Ziebol will get the call on the mound for the Warriors in Game 3.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Friday at Spanish Fort
Russell Co. 000 004 1--5 8 1
Spanish Ft 000 000 0--0 2 0
WP--Jesse Nelson (NA). LP--E. Walker (NA). Leading hitters--Trevor Davis 1-3, HR, 2R; Trent Belcher 2-4, R; Jesse Nelson 2-3, HR, 2RBI; Anfernee Grier 1-4, R, RBI.
Spanish Ft 000 052 1--8 8 2
Russell Co. 000 000 0--0 5 0
WP--McCord. LP--Dial. Leading hitters--Spanish Fort, Perteet 1 for 4, HR, 4 RBI, Hall 1 for 3, 2B, 2 RBI; Russell County, Webb 1 for 4, 2B, Nelson 1 for 3, 2B, Grier, 2 for 2, 2B. Records--Spanish Fort, 42-8, Russell County, 43-7. Next--Russell County at Spanish Fort at 2 p.m. ET Saturday in Game 3 of Class 5A semifinals