SPANISH FORT, Ala. -- For weeks, Russell County baseball coach Tony Rasmus had stressed the need to limit mistakes that would cost it when it played top-ranked Spanish Fort.
On Saturday, in the rubber match of the best-of-three semifinal series between the two teams, the Warriors found out again why that was so important.
Spanish Fort played a near flawless Game 3, defeating Russell County 4-3 to advance to its fourth consecutive state title game. The Toros have won each of the other three title series’. For the Warriors (43-8), it is the third consecutive time they have been ousted from the playoffs by Spanish Fort.
Rasmus said a handful of mistakes cost Russell County in the game.
“Too many mistakes,” he said. “Too many mistakes. Two walks and a hit batter result in a couple runs, we have a baserunning blunder at the end. If not for that, we’re at least tied. They didn’t make any mistakes, and we did. That’s the difference.”
Down 4-2 in the sixth inning, Russell County nearly tied the game on a hard hit off the bat of third baseman Jesse Nelson. The ball nearly cleared the center field fence, but instead hit off the top. Designated hitter Trent Belcher, who was on first base after knocking a single, tagged up at first base rather than run part of the way to second. The result was that Nelson’s near game-tying homer was instead a single.
Anfernee Grier followed with a single to load the bases and B.J. Brooks hit a sacrifice fly, but the Warriors had to settle for just one.
Rasmus said he thought Nelson’s hit would clear the fence when it left the bat.
“Yeah, I thought so,” he said. “It was close. Just one of those things. It’s a game of inches. We’ve all heard that before.”
Second baseman Hunter Webb did hit one out for the Warriors in the third inning of a scoreless game. It was a two-run shot that gave his team a 2-0 lead.
Russell County’s starting pitcher Will Ziebol hardly gave up any solid contact the entire game. He allowed just four hits, but he walked and hit four different batters in 3 2-3 innings, contributing to Spanish Fort’s four runs. The Toros got two each in the third and fourth innings and never relinquished the lead. Three of the four runs came with two outs.
“That was a problem for us in the first game,” Toros coach Brent Boyd said. “We had to change a few things, make some adjustments in the next two.”
Meanwhile, Spanish Fort (43-8) scattered eight hits and didn’t walk a single batter in the field. Boyd said, like Rasmus, he stresses to his team making routine plays.
“We really stress those,” he said. “Over and over and over again. The guys are just comfortable making those plays in a big-game situation.”
Gunner Hendrix got the win for Spanish Fort, pitching 4 2-3 innings, striking out three and allowing just two runs. Rob Perteet got the save, allowing one run over 2 2-3 innings of work to close the game.
It was a disappointing end for Russell County, which appeared poised to get over the hump against the Toros after a 5-0 win in Game 1. The coach said he wasn’t going to hang his head and hang on to the loss, however.
“If I thought we were better, I’d be more disappointed,” he said. “They just played better than us.”
He also made a prediction for Spanish Fort’s title series with Hartselle.
“They’re probably going to win again,” he said resignedly. “Their fourth in a row. They’re a good team.”
The Warriors will lose six everyday starters and on pitcher, Todd Dial, to graduation next season. Those six include Webb (University of Alabama), Grier (Auburn University) and Nelson (Troy University).
“We’ll miss those guys,” Rasmus said. “We’ve got some good guys coming back, though. We’ll be fine.”