Catcher Hunter Briles hustles to first base during a Russellville playoff win over Etowah.

Golden Tigers sweep Etowah in playoff contest

By Brannon King / For the FCT

The Russellville Golden Tigers got their quest for a fourth-straight baseball state championship underway with a first round sweep of Etowah April 20.

The series featured a matchup of two teams both ranked in the top ten in the state, with the Blue Devils coming in at No. 7 and RHS at No. 4 in the last 5A regular season ASWA poll.

In front of a big crowd at the Russellville diamond, the Golden Tigers got a couple of wins by two senior starting pitchers who both hit home runs to help RHS win each game by a 7-3 score.

In game one, Landon Ezzell pitched a complete game, allowing three hits while throwing 100 pitches.  Etowah jumped out to a 2-0 first inning lead, but Russellville answered with four runs in the bottom of the fourth. After the Blue Devils scored a single run in the top of the fifth, RHS picked up three runs in the bottom half of the frame.

The big hit of the inning was a two-run homer by Ezzell that made the score 6-3 at the time.  The home run was Ezzell’s sixth of the season, and later in the game, he got his sixth win of the year on the mound by defeating EHS 7-3.

RHS had six hits in the game by six different batters. Ezzell was joined by Noah Gist, Rudy Fernandez, Brock Malone, Tom Barkley Scott and Hunter Briles in the hit column. Ezzell, Malone, Scott and Houston Kitterman had RBIs, with Ezzell driving in three.

In game two, Russellville used a three-run seventh inning to pull away for another 7-3 win. This time, Fernandez was the leader on the mound and at the plate. The right-hander pitched all seven innings, allowing eight hits while striking out seven Blue Devils. With the bat, Fernandez went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs.

Caden Parker and Hunter Briles helped out on offense for RHS with two hits each. Parker had a double and a run scored. Gist, Malone and Scott all added hits for the Golden Tigers, with Briles and Kitterman driving in additional runs.

Omar Tompkins and Colten Madden ran the bases well in the game, with Tompkins picking up two stolen bases and two runs scored. Madden scored a run, as did Fernandez, Ezzell and Scott.

“Our pitchers did a really good job,” Russellville head coach Chris Heaps said. “Ezzell started off and didn’t really have his ‘A’ stuff. I think adrenaline was part of it because that was the first big game that he’s ever pitched in, as far as playoffs. He’s pitched in some regular season games, but he’s never pitched in a playoff game for us, and I think that had a lot to do with it as far as maybe trying to over-throw and things.

“On days where you don’t have your ‘A’ stuff, you still go out and compete, and you try to give your team a chance to win,” Heaps added. “Rudy’s been the guy that hasn’t done that. When things are going good for Rudy, he really is a warrior, but if he gets a little adversity, he goes from warrior to worrier a little bit, and I was proud of how he competed tonight. That home run helped him as well.”

Earlier in the week, RHS went to Madison Academy and swept the Mustangs to finish up the regular season. Russellville scored six runs in the first inning of game one on the way to a 13-4 win. Kitterman went 3-for-4 with a triple, and Scott also had a triple and two RBIs. Devin Buckhalter added two hits, two runs and two RBIs for Russellville.

Ezzell, Fernandez, Jaret Ward and Kitterman did the pitching in game one.

Game two went Russellville’s way as well, 5-1. Buckhalter went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs.  Jeff Lloyd also had a double, and Scott had a triple. Kitterman added two hits, while Fernandez and Malone had a hit each.

Scott got the win on the mound by pitching six innings, and Malone worked the game’s final frame.

RHS (24-12) will continue the playoffs with a trip to Lee-Huntsville (17-11) for a second-round series starting April 27.

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