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Next stop, semifinals: Golden Tiger baseball advances with sweep of Alexandria

The Russellville Golden Tigers are headed back to the AHSAA Class 5A baseball semifinals after sweeping the Alexandria Valley Cubs.

RHS (38-6) is no stranger to baseball post-season success, with three-straight state championships starting in 2015 and a runner-up finish in 2018 under head coach Chris Heaps.

After a second-round exit in 2019 and no playoffs taking place last year because of COVID-19, this group of Golden Tigers is ready to head to Madison Academy to face the 31-10 Mustangs May 12, with a spot in Montgomery for the state finals series on the line.

In game one of the quarterfinal series versus Alexandria May 6 at RHS, the Golden Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two innings of play on their way to a 6-1 victory. Both squads picked up a run in the third frame before rain and wind forced a delay in the bottom half of the fourth inning.

The delay lasted more than two hours.

When play resumed, Russellville had the bases loaded and one out. A Reed Hill single during that inning brought home a run – and that was plenty of insurance for starting pitcher Emitt Green to get the victory.

Green worked a complete-game win, allowing two hits. The junior with a side-arm delivery struck out four and walked three while throwing 98 pitches.

Russellville got contributions at the plate by a number of batters. Hill added a double, and Jackson Lindsey also had a couple of hits, including a two-bagger and an RBI. Casen Heaps also had two hits, while Eli Gipson, Grayson Thorpe and JD Bishop also hit safely during the contest.

Gipson, Thorpe and Bishop drove in runs as well.

Earlier in the week, Gipson was named to the North baseball squad for the All-Star Sports Week events coming up this summer.

Because of the late finishing hour of game one, the two teams waited until the following afternoon for the second game of the best-of-three series.

The large crowd witnessed an outstanding pitchers’ duel between Russellville’s duo of Rowe Gallagher and Reed Hill versus Alexandria’s Wesley Wright, and the game was decided in extra-innings.

Gallagher got the start on the mound and went 4.2 innings before RHS went to the bullpen with the score tied at 0-0 and the bases loaded with a 2-0 count to the Alexandria batter.

The move by Russellville head coach Chris Heaps worked like a charm when Hill got a ground ball out to end the scoring threat.

“I wasn’t uncomfortable with him, but when he got those two balls, I just felt like it was time to make the move,” Heaps explained. “I just felt it in my gut, and it was the right call.

“Rowe did a good job putting up zeros getting us to that point, and that’s what it takes. It takes a staff. You can’t always put an Emitt out there, like he did last night, and go seven. Sometimes you’ve got to have three guys; sometimes it takes two guys; and there’s multiple times this year when we’ve had to use three and four guys.

“I was proud of them and how it went.”

Hill went 4.1 innings to get the win when Russellville erupted with nine runs in the top of the ninth to finish the series with a 9-0 victory.

Alexandria senior lefty Wright went 8.1 innings, and when he left to a standing ovation from both teams’ fans, the Valley Cubs were trailing 4-0 with two RHS runners on base who later scored.

Wright struck out 10 Golden Tigers and finished the year with 101 strikeouts, setting the school’s single-season record.

Canyon Pace, Gipson and Lindsey had two hits each for RHS, with Gipson smacking two doubles while Pace and Lindsey had one apiece. Casen Heaps and Hill both had hits and two RBIs each, while Nick Smith, Thorpe and Banks Langston added singles and RBIs. Cole Barnett contributed with a key sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning.

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