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RHS baseball alums face NCAA seasons cut short by virus

They have produced game-winning home runs, pitched strikeouts and made catches and throws that wowed the crowd. They have won state championships, and a couple were on a team that made it to Omaha for the College World Series – but for seven former Russellville Golden Tigers currently playing baseball for four-year schools, they have experienced nothing like the coronavirus pandemic that brought their 2020 seasons to a premature halt in March.

If not for the virus, colleges and universities all over the country would be battling it out over the next few weeks on the baseball diamond during post-season play, looking to win a championship.

Auburn University is one of those schools. The Tigers had high hopes to return to the College World Series in 2020 after advancing to Omaha this past season with the help of two former RHS stars: relief pitcher Cody Greenhill and outfielder Judd Ward, who were both juniors on The Plains this year.

AU finished the season with a record of 13-5 under head coach Butch Thompson. The Tigers were set to begin SEC play March 13 with a series versus Texas A&M when play stopped.

The season began with a bang for the RHS duo, with Greenhill picking up the save in the season opener and Ward following that up by hitting for the cycle in a win during a four-game series sweep of Illinois-Chicago at Plainsman Park.

Ward made headlines again with a four-for-four performance at the plate with seven RBIs during a 12-6 win over Alabama A&M Feb. 26.

Greenhill finished 2020 with a 0.00 ERA with four appearances out of the bullpen. He picked up two saves and, during 12.2 innings of work, he struck out 17 batters and walked one.

Opposing hitters managed a .122 average against the right-hander.

Leftfielder Ward hit .315 for the season and started every game. He had an OPS of .872, and he smacked two home runs and picked up 17 RBIs.

Ward also shone with the glove on defense, and he possesses a strong and accurate throwing arm.  He made no errors on defense for a perfect fielding percentage of 1.000.

The UAB Blazers finished 2020 with a 7-9 record during retiring head coach Brian Shoop’s final season. Senior lefthander Austin Bohannon started five games on the mound, and his 20.1 innings pitched led the team. Bohannon finished the year with a 2.66 ERA, and he started the season opener at home versus Notre Dame Feb. 14. During that game, he pitched 6.1 innings of no-hit ball.

Junior Reed Smith was a member of the 2020 Troy University team that finished the season with a 9-8 record. The Trojans started the year 7-0 and were set to begin Sun Belt Conference play at Georgia Southern March 13 when the season ended.

Smith, who is an infielder and outfielder, batted .167 with an OPS of .477 in 2020. He was two-for-two on stolen base attempts and had a fielding percentage of .926.

In Division II baseball, UAH finished the year on a 10-game winning streak and held a 16-5 record for the season. The Chargers were 10-2 in Gulf South Conference play, and sophomore Landon Ezzell started 17 games this season.  He had a walk-off home run in a win over Augusta Feb. 1 at Charger Park, and he hit .254 on the season with an OPS of .613 and was two-for-two on stolen base attempts. The utility player had a fielding percentage of .985.

Brothers Austin and Houston Kitterman were teammates again on the baseball field for the first time since their days at RHS while playing at the University of West Alabama in 2020.

Austin, a senior pitcher, had eight appearances on the mound with a 5.28 ERA. He struck out 14 batters over 15.1 innings and started one game. Houston was a redshirt freshman infielder this year, and he saw action in two games. He walked once, was hit by a pitch and scored a run for the Division II Tigers.