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ACCOLADES KEEP COMING: Russellville, Phil Campbell grab major postseason honors

It would be hard to argue there is anywhere in the state that has had as impressive a concentration of baseball talent as exists along the Highway 13 corridor that extends from Phil Campbell to Russellville.

Russellville was crowned the Class 5A state champions in late May. A few days, later Phil Campbell was hoisting the blue map in the Class 3A championship series.

All that team success brings individual honors. The Alabama Sports Writers Association released the annual All-State teams this weekend, and Russellville and Phil Campbell raked in the honors.

Russellville’s Chris Heaps was named the Class 5A Coach of the Year. Phil Campbell’s Johnathan Raper was named the Class 3A Coach of the Year.

Phil Campbell junior pitcher and infielder Mason Swinney was named the Class 3A Player of the Year.  Swinney also earned the Class 3A state finals MVP and has committed to play baseball for the University of Alabama.

Eight players between the two schools earned All-State honors.

At Russellville, junior Emmitt Green and senior Jackson Lindsey were named to the Class 5A All-State First Team. Senior Cole Barnett, who was MVP of the 5A championship, earned Second Team honors, and senior Rowe Gallagher earned honorable mention honors.

In Class 3A, Swinney and senior Austen Baker earned First Team honors. Senior Ridge Raper and sophomore Bryant Anthony earned Second Team honors.

“There is a lot of great baseball talent in this area,” said Phil Campbell Coach Johnathan Raper. “Both communities have solid youth programs that people really care about. A lot of kids around here play travel ball.  They work really hard, put the time in, and you see the rewards it has reaped in this area.

“Personally, being named coach of the year is flattering, but it is just a reflection on the kids that I have been blessed to be around,” Raper added. “I have had the opportunity to coach most of the kids since they were little in Dixie Youth ball, and I’ve been with them since they have grown up.

“My two boys play and all their friends. They are always around. It is more than baseball to me.”

Swinney was Phil Campbell’s game one starter all through the playoffs. He was a dominant force on the mound and at the plate. He was also one of the Bobcats’ best defenders in the field, usually playing either shortstop or second base.

“Mason deserves everything he gets,” said Raper. “He works very hard. He never stops. He just keeps getting better and better.

“The kid has a lot of talent. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for him.”

Swinney said he was proud of the honor but added that it reflected more on his team than himself.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” said the rising senior, “but the success we had on the field was even better. It was a dream come true to win a state championship. We thought we could make a run last year, but COVID hit. So this year we came in with an ‘all or nothing’ attitude.

“We were determined we were going to make it happen. Everyone on the team was a competitor. We went out each day and competed.

“We didn’t care who got the credit as long as we were winning. It made all of the younger guys hungry to do it again.”