‘All good things come to an end’

By Brannon King / For the FCT

Russellville High School’s quest for a fourth-consecutive AHSAA Class 5A baseball state championship came up short as the Golden Tigers fell to the Faith Academy Rams in Montgomery.

The two schools were meeting in the championship series for the third-straight year, with RHS coming out on top in each of the previous matchups. This time, the Rams from Mobile swept Russellville in the best-of-three series by taking game one Thursday at Paterson Field by a 5-3 score and following that up with a 7-3 victory in the series clincher Friday at Riverwalk Stadium.

Russellville (30-16) faced the difficult task of needing two wins over a Faith Academy team that had only three losses over the course of the entire season coming into the series. The Rams (36-3) were solid at the plate and relied on outstanding pitching to claim their first state championship on the baseball diamond.

The Golden Tigers had some opportunities to break through against Faith, but the Rams starting pitchers – Reece Ewing in game one and Eli Giles in game two – kept Russellville batters from putting together big innings.

“I’m proud of these guys,” said Russellville head coach Chris Heaps. “A lot of things had to go our way to get here. I guess the thing that had to happen most is they had to believe, they had to work, and they’ve done that.

“All good things come to an end, and this is just a new beginning, I hope, for our program. There were a lot of young guys in the dugout that saw where they want to be.”

In game one, Faith Academy put together a two-run top of the first inning to grab an early lead off of starting pitcher Caden Parker. An RBI double brought home the game’s first run, and that was followed by a run-scoring single by the Rams. Parker dodged further damage in the opening frame by getting a double play to end the inning.

Russellville’s Rudy Fernandez got a rally started in the third inning with a double. The hit moved Noah Gist to third, and he later scored on a wild pitch. Senior lefty Ewing worked his way out of the jam, and his team answered with three runs in the bottom of the third to grow the lead to 5-1.

The Golden Tigers had something brewing in the sixth off of Ewing when Brock Malone singled and Parker drew a walk. However, two strikeouts followed to end the RHS half of the inning with no runs scored.

In the game’s final inning, Hunter Briles started things off with a single. Gist walked, and later, Ewing made a barehanded play on a ball hit by Fernandez for an out on the last pitch he threw in the game because of pitch-count rules.

Eli Giles came on in relief of Ewing with runners on second and third with one out. Landon Ezzell then hit a ball to shortstop, and the throw was wild, allowing two Russellville runs to score.

Faith Academy was able to finish off the win by getting a ground ball to third and throwing out a baserunner at the plate – and then, on a 3-2 pitch, a fly-out to center ended the game.

Game two was played at Riverwalk Stadium, and Giles was on the mound again, this time as the starter for the Rams. He faced off with Rudy Fernandez, who got the ball for Russellville. Just as in game one, Faith jumped out to a first inning lead. An RBI single put them in front 1-0 before a Houston Kitterman squeeze bunt brought home Gist to tie the score.

Faith Academy would score single runs in the third and fifth innings to make the score 3-1 before Jaret Ward came on in relief of Fernandez. In the sixth, the Rams got a three-run double and a squeeze bunt run to make it 7-1.

Landon Ezzell came on to pitch 1.2 innings for Russellville, and the Golden Tigers tried for a comeback in the sixth inning, getting hits from Malone and Devin Buckhalter. The hits were followed by an RBI from Jeff Lloyd, and a hard-hit ball by Tom Barkley Scott brought home another run to make the score 7-3.

Russellville brought the tying run to the plate, but a line-out and a strikeout ended the threat.

James Flynn came on in relief of eventual series MVP Giles and worked the game’s final inning for the Rams.

With the leadership of Heaps and young talent making their way up the ranks, RHS baseball still has a bright future. “Our guys believe,” Heaps said. “They believe in me because I trust them and believe in them. I give them something to believe in; I sell a product every day; and if they’ll show up and buy it, we’ll be back here again before long.”

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