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Golden Tigers claw down Lions to advance

The Class 5A baseball playoffs got underway at Russellville April 22, and the Golden Tigers swept the Sardis Lions to advance to the second round.

After weather delayed the start of the best-of-three series that was slated to begin April 19, the two teams met for a double0header in front of big crowd at the Russellville Baseball Stadium, with RHS taking the first game by a 5-2 score. The Golden Tigers followed that up with a dominating performance, taking the second game of the series 20-3.

With the two wins, the Golden Tigers improved their record on the season to 17-16 and got over the .500 mark for the first time this year after making their way through a difficult regular season schedule.

Since 2015, the Golden Tigers are a remarkable 20-1 in playoff series under head coach Chris Heaps, with the only defeat coming to Faith Academy in last season’s state championship.

“In the first 11 games, we saw eight D-1 pitchers,” Heaps said. “Things are going to be tough, especially when you’re playing young like we do. We’ve got three seniors on the field at most times, but then, we also have an eighth-grader in the lineup; we’ve got a ninth-grader that’s played a lot early; and then we’ve got a core of 10th-graders that really were JV players last year.”

In game one versus Sardis, the Lions jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but those were the only runs senior right-handed pitcher Caden Parker would allow in the contest. Parker settled in and pitched a complete game to get the win, allowing three runs, with two of them earned. He threw 98 pitches, struck out one and walked three.

Both teams finished game one with five hits. Seniors with big-game experience are key during play-off time, and the duo of Devin Buckhalter and Hunter Briles showed it. Both players had two hits in the contest, with Buckhalter picking up a double, a walk and two runs scored. Briles did good work behind the plate catching and came through with two RBIs at the plate. Another senior, Nate Green, also had a double, and he reached base by being hit by a pitch.

Will Rogers and Buckhalter both helped the Russellville cause by picking up an RBI each with a bases-loaded walk. Meanwhile, Jackson Lindsey, Casen Heaps and Rowe Gallagher all scored runs for RHS.

Russellville scored in six of the seven innings to take game two. An eight-run seventh inning finished off the Lions after the Golden Tigers plated five in the top of the sixth frame. Sardis pitchers struggled down the stretch.

RHS outhit Sardis 8-5, with Rowe Gallagher and Rogers leading the way with two hits apiece. Rogers was 2-for-2 with three walks, three runs scored and three RBIs. The junior outfielder smacked a double and also stole a base.

Other Russellville batters with a hit included Buckhalter, Ethan Oliver, Lindsey and Casen Heaps.

Cade Fretwell, Canyon Pace, Cole Barnett, Tanner James, Gordon White, Parker, Nathan Brockway, Green, John David Bishop, Cam Bonn and Samuel Pace all helped the team to victory with a combination of runs, walks and RBIs.

White got the start on the mound and picked up the win. He worked 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on five hits. White struck out nine and walked one before Gallagher came on in relief. Gallagher allowed no runs or hits, and he struck out six and walked one Sardis batter in 2.1 innings.

Russellville will host Southside High School of Gadsden in round two, with a double header scheduled for April 26. If a third game is needed, it will be the following day at RHS.