Golden Tigers remain hungry for playoff berth

By Staff
Mike Self, Franklin County Times
The Russellville baseball team won a school-record 29 games last season under first-year head coach David Ward, but complacency will not be an issue-not after the way the season ended.
The Golden Tigers dropped eight of their last ten games last year, with all eight losses coming to Class 5A, Area 16 rivals Muscle Shoals and Hartselle. The late-season swoon cost Russellville a playoff berth, and Ward and company are hungry for another shot at postseason play.
Still, they have set their sights on more than just making the playoffs.
"Our goal is to win our area," said Ward, whose team will open play Monday at home with games against Oneonta and Danville in a round-robin tournament. "We know we'll have to play good baseball to do that. Our schedule is tougher this year, so maybe that will help us.
"If we can get in the playoffs, I think we've got enough pitching to go pretty far."
The status of hard-throwing righthander Jacob Daniel is up in the air for this season as he rehabs a shoulder injury, but the Golden Tigers have plenty of other quality arms available.
Seniors Preston Beasley and Jacey Wilson lead the way on the mound. Beasley exhibited tremendous late movement on his pitches last year, posting a 7-3 record with a 1.06 ERA and only 44 hits allowed in 66 innings. Wilson tossed five complete games last season and finished 5-4 with a 1.55 ERA.
Juniors Cory Trapp, Matthew Crawford and Josh James will also play key roles on the pitching staff, and freshmen Jake Ward, Evan Fergerson, Seth Rhudy and Hunter Thomas offer plenty of depth.
Ward said that juniors Caleb Mitchell and Corey Flanagan may also see time on the mound, and he hasn't ruled out the possibility of Daniel (who averaged 11 strikeouts per game last year and held opponents to a .165 batting average) returning late in the season.
The Golden Tigers batted .322 as a team last season and stole 117 bases, but they failed to break double-digits in home runs. That should change this year with the return of power-hitting third baseman Seth Fergerson, who will add a much-needed long ball threat to Ward's patented small-ball approach.
"Seth has good power, and so does Evan," Ward said. "That should definitely help us."
Daniel's .459 average will be missed, but Ward is optimistic that the offense can still improve.
"We've got all of our kids back, and now they're a year older and a year stronger," he said.
A hand injury to Mitchell was a major factor in Russellville's late-season slide a year ago. At the time of the injury, the speedy centerfielder was batting .393 with 35 runs scored and a team-leading 35 stolen bases.
Jake Ward returns to set the table after batting .398 and scoring a team-high 46 runs last season as an eighth-grader. He will be back in left field, and senior Patrick Hines will flank Mitchell on the other side in right field.
Trapp anchors the infield defense at shortstop, and he also batted .367 with 28 RBIs and 32 runs scored last season. Flanagan, a clutch hitter with a smooth opposite-field stroke, is back at second base after batting .315 with 18 RBIs and 27 runs scored. Evan Fergerson will play first, and junior Torey Baird is back for his third season as the starting catcher.
Crawford, who hit .277 with 15 RBIs last year, can play first base or the outfield and may also DH some.
Ward said that another year of experience gained last season will be a big boost for his team.
"We were very young last year, and the two teams [Muscle Shoals and Hartselle] that gave us so much trouble had a lot of seniors," he said. "Muscle Shoals had five or six guys sign scholarships. That's pretty tough.
"I thought we played hard and even out-played them in certain games, but we just didn't catch any breaks. Hopefully some of those breaks will go our way this year."
Hartselle has moved out of Area 16 this season, and Decatur has moved in. Muscle Shoals and Athens remain.

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