When the Russell County baseball team lost its final game last season to Spanish Fort in the state playoffs, coach Tony Rasmus looked across the field at the other team.
“I could honestly say I wouldn’t trade a single one of our players for one of theirs,” he said. “I felt like we were more talented at every single position.”
Talent, though, doesn’t always equal a state championship. It takes a team of individuals that comes together as a single unit, Rasmus said.
That’s something the Warriors lacked last season and something Rasmus believes, and hopes, the 2013 edition has when it begins its season with four games on Monday at Golden Park (first game begins at 9 a.m.).
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“We need to play better as a group,” Rasmus said. “We have to improve the team chemistry. That’s probably something that we lacked last year. And you can’t just throw magic pixie dust out there and make it happen. It depends on the players making it happen.”
Rasmus is optimistic that this year’s team has what it takes to take the next step in that regard.
For one, it is a senior-laden lineup, something that hasn’t been a feature since the team’s 2005 state-championship season.
Of nine projected starters, seven are seniors. The other two are juniors.
“Senior leadership can help that team chemistry,” Rasmus said. “I’d like to say some players on this team are like Colby (Rasmus) was for the 2005 team. People would just listen to him and follow him. We haven’t had that since then, and I think we’ve got that this year. If history is any indication, that’s a good sign.”
And this team isn’t short on talent either. Like Rasmus noted about last year’s team, which featured nearly the same lineup, talent was never an issue.
Anfernee Grier, Hunter Webb and Jesse Nelson lead the team, though Rasmus said it’s impossible to just single out a few players.
Grier is an obvious choice because of his .380 batting average as a junior and stature as one of the nation’s top high school prospects. Webb is too when you look at his numbers (.408 batting average) from last season. Nelson hit .377 last year, but senior Trevor Davis also hit .406. Going down the lineup, it’s difficult to find a hole anywhere.
“It’s hard to single out anybody,” Rasmus said. “We have five or six really great players.”
Hitting isn’t the question mark for the Warriors, who broke nearly every offensive school record last season. The hitting is expected to be a strength this year, whereas the defense needs to improve.
Russell County will replace one of its top pitchers, Ray Castillo, who graduated, as well as catcher Chandler Durham. Those won’t be easy players to replace, particularly Durham. Rasmus is confident players will step up, though.
Every year, teams set goals, Rasmus said. Most set the ultimate goal of a state championship, though few really have what it takes to make that happen.
“This team really feels like it’s got a chance to win it, though,” Rasmus said of Russell County. “Every day, the gist of our conversation is what we can do to get better. This team wants to be better than it was last year, and we feel like we’ve got a great shot.”
David Mitchell 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.