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Russellville 10 and Under makes state

RUSSELLVILLE — The city of Russellville has become known for its outstanding sports programs. Whether it is in a little league baseball team or the Russellville Golden Tigers varsity football squad, teams from the city are generally seen as a contender or even the team to beat.

Russellville High School is a perennial contender in varsity football, and the school boasts a second-place finish in the state in golf and an individual state title in boys’ tennis (Drew Malone) just last school year.

For a varsity team to have such good athletes, kids must be started down the right path at an early age.

Several Russellville teams made it deep into the playoffs last year in little league baseball all-stars, and this season the 10 and Under team has made it all the way to the state tournament in Oxford.

It took a lot of hard work and determination to reach that stage, as well as playing in both a sub-district and district tournament.

“We played in a sub-district tournament hosted by Central (Florence),” said Russellville 10 and Under head coach Jeff Fretwell.

“There were four teams, and the top three advance. We drew playing Central the first game.

“They ended up beating us 11-9 in a game that could have went either way; we kind of blew up in one inning. The next day we played Colbert Heights and beat them 16-2.

“We came back Monday playing Underwood, and we had them beat 10-2 in the last inning. We made some errors and they ended up scoring six runs, so we won 10-8.

“At the very end we were in a three-way tie with Central and Underwood for first place. It went back to runs scored to break the tie.

“The team we beat 10-2 (Underwood) ended up being the No. 1 team, and we were third. We got to advance, though, to district.”

The competition at the sub-district tournament may have been tough, but the district tournament featured at least two teams that were previously undefeated.

“District was played in Moulton,” Fretwell said. “It was a 12-game tournament, and the top team automatically gets to go to state.

“The runner-up team gets to play in a tournament in Priceville (for a chance to make the state tournament). Our goal was to be one of the top two teams.

“We ended up being the visiting team until we played Moulton in the last two games head-to-head.

“We played Winfield the first game, and our bats were on fire. John Smith takes care of our pitchers, and he had them in good shape. We beat them 14-1.

“We came back and played Moulton, and they jumped on us. In the fourth inning we tied it at 1-1, then we blew up. They ended up beating us 10-1.

“We dropped down to the losers’ bracket and had to fight our way back out. We came back and played Haleyville and won 20-2.

“The next night we played Underwood again, and this was the comeback game right here. Going into the last inning (sixth) they had us 7-3. We came back and went ahead 10-7. They got the last bat and scored one more run, but we held them from there and won 10-8. That was huge for us.”

At this point Russellville had played several games but had found itself in the losers’ bracket. The only option to reach the tourney finals, and ultimately fulfill the team’s main goal of reaching state, was to win out. However, those two aforementioned unbeaten teams stood in the way.

“We played Muscle Shoals Wednesday night, and they were undefeated until the night before,” Fretwell said. “We were on fire and beat them 14-1. That put us back playing Moulton, who was undefeated.

“We won three games in a row to get back to play them, but we had to beat them twice to win the tournament. We beat them in the first game 3-2.

“We had some great pitching by Rowe Gallagher. We were the home team by coin toss. We played again 30 minutes later for the championship.

“Eli Smith pitched the whole game for us in game two. They batted first and scored two runs. Will Bonner got walked, he stole a base and J.M. Lawson hit him in with a double to make it 2-1.

“They scored another run in the second inning to make it 3-1, and we went three up, three down. We made it 3-2 in our next at-bat when Collin Bonner brought in Gallagher.

“It stayed 3-2 until our final at-bat. Gallagher walked, and Bonner laid down a beautiful bunt.

“I bet it didn’t roll three inches. That got Gallagher to third, because he had previously stolen second. Bonner stole second, so we had a man on second and third with two outs.

“They were still up three to two. Will Bonner got up and drove one deep into the outfield. It probably went 195 feet.

“It bounced once and hit the fence. He hit a double, scored both runs and we won the championship 4-3. That means we have an automatic bid to the state tournament.”

Russellville has had more than its fair share of success in athletics over the years at all levels, but according to Fretwell, this was the best feeling he has had after winning a game.

“My oldest boy played baseball and football all through high school,” he said. “We’ve been to games and tournaments all over the place. We were at the state title game against Demopolis.

“This right here, hands down, was a lot better, just to win it. These kids went crazy.”

Now the 10 and Under All-Stars will play in the state tournament. The team has faced some stiff competition already, but state tournaments tend to host the best of the best, so Russellville will have to play its best baseball at the end in order to come out on top.

“We are District 11, and our first game will be July 20 at 7 p.m. We will face the District 7 champion,” Fretwell said.

“We definitely have to keep hitting. We have some good pitching. What helped us a lot was using different pitchers to equal out innings.

“The defense came alive in the last three or four games, and we had some good base coaching. Shawn Greenhill is a good coach, and he made some good moves as far as bunting and what not.

“It all has to come together, though. We have to keep practicing and keep that momentum going. “They’re a good bunch. Even when we were down, they never quit the whole time.”