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CLASS 5A STATE CHAMPIONS: Russellville sweeps Pike Road to win baseball state title

For the fourth time since 2015, the Russellville Golden Tigers are the AHSAA Class 5A baseball state champions.

Russellville (42-7) swept the Pike Road Patriots in the best-of-three series played at Montgomery’s Paterson Field and Riverwalk Stadium. RHS took game one May 17 by a 3-1 score and rallied from behind late in game two the following day for a thrilling victory to claim the coveted blue map trophy for 2021.

In the clincher at Riverwalk, finals MVP Cole Barnett of Russellville tripled past a shallow playing outfielder with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning while trailing 2-1.

Head Coach Chris Heaps, who skillfully guided his team to another title, then called upon pinch-hitter Andrew Hatton. After falling behind 0-1 in the count, Hatton smacked a liner to right field just out of the reach of the defender – which led to an exciting sprint on the base paths as Hatton tied the game on the second consecutive triple of the inning for the Golden Tigers.

Grayson Thorpe then bunted the ball perfectly down the first base line and beat the throw, allowing Hatton to score and give RHS the lead.

Reed Hill then came on to relieve starter Rowe Gallagher, who went six innings, allowing two runs on three hits prior to the final frame.

With one out, Pike Road’s Iverson Hooks connected on a big swing that launched the ball high off the outfield wall for a double, just missing a tying home run.

Soon after, Iverson tried to catch the Golden Tigers napping, but his ill-advised attempt to steal third backfired when an alert Hill threw over to a well-positioned Nick Smith at third for the tag and the second out.

Hill then blew away the next batter for a strikeout to end the series and start the Russellville championship celebration.

“When we were down to our last eight outs, the thing I told our coaches and players is that no matter what the score is, no matter what the adversity is, no matter what the situation is, we’ve got seven innings to play, and we’re going to play all seven with a process that’s conducive to winning,” Heaps shared. “We don’t care about the score. We care about the process we have, the attitude we have, the work ethic we have, the love for our brothers that we have, and that’s what makes them uncommon.”

An ingredient the Russellville squad has is a unique closeness and willingness to pick each other up, and that was evident all season long, especially in the series-winning game.

“I had just told the guys in the dugout, ‘We’re going to win this game because we love each other. No other reason than the fact that we love each other more than you could ever love anybody in the whole entire world,” Barnett said. “Those guys are my brothers, and I’d do anything for them.

“I just knew we were going to win the game. I don’t know how, I just knew,” he said. “I didn’t know how it was going to happen; I just knew we were going to find a way, and thank God we did.”

Gallagher got the win – and Clay Slagle took the loss – after pitching six innings, allowing nine hits, one walk and a hit-batter that resulted in Russellville’s first run when JD Bishop took one for the team with the bases loaded for an RBI.

Barnett was 3-for-3 in the final game following a two-hit performance by the senior in game one. RHS also got hits in game two by Jackson Lindsey, Nick Smith, Hill and Bishop.

Game one of the series featured another winning effort by starting pitcher Emitt Green. The junior went 6 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run. Hill also got the save, this time needing nine pitches to finish off the Patriots in the opener.

Lucas Bagget took the loss, also going 6 1/3 before being relieved by Chael Kerr.

Jackson Lindsey went 2-for-2 with two doubles and two RBIs to lead RHS. The senior first baseman also walked twice. Canyon Pace had a hit and an RBI with other Russellville hits coming from Eli Gipson, Hatton, Hill and Bishop.

This championship season for RHS also featured outstanding defense and a talented pitching staff that was as reliable as the train that runs behind the outfield wall at Riverwalk Stadium. Assistant coach David Langston played a key role in the pitching success of the Golden Tigers, preparing the staff to compete and relaying his knowledge of the game to the players and building trust.

Starter Gordon White was instrumental in getting the Golden Tigers to the championship series with huge game-three wins over both Corner and Madison Academy, and he was ready to go if the Pike Road series went the distance.

“I think the biggest thing is the trust we have for them and then the trust they have for us,” Langston said. “It’s been a great group, and it’s all about all nine or ten of them that we’ve counted on all year.

“We’ve got a very, very deep staff, and in the tournament we only used, I think, four or five but that doesn’t really tell the confidence we have in all of them.

“If we would have had to play a game three – we’re very fortunate we didn’t – but we felt great because we knew we had enough depth to run out there.”

A large crowd was on hand to support both schools, including an enthusiastic group that supported the Golden Tigers from start to finish on their road to the championship.