BACK-TO-BACK STATE CHAMPIONS
The Russellville Golden Tigers are the AHSAA Class 5A baseball state champions for the second consecutive year.
RHS defeated the Holtville Bulldogs for the 2022 championship May 18-19 in Oxford at Choccolocco Park and on Jacksonville State University’s Rudy Abbott Field at Jim Case Stadium. The Golden Tigers did it by taking game one 2-0 and game three 12-2 during the best-of-three series, a year after beating Pike Road for the title in 2021.
This year’s 5A state title is the fifth for the Russellville baseball team in school history, with the first coming in 2015. All five baseball state championships have come under the leadership of RHS head coach Chris Heaps.
“I’m just super proud of the work that they’ve put in,” Heaps said of this year’s championship winning team. “I told them this morning that at the end of the day, somebody’s going to leave here smiling, and somebody’s going to leave here crying. I don’t mind crying tears of joy, but I don’t like crying.
“I’m super proud and excited for them. The work that they’ve put in, the commitment to excellence that they have held themselves to – and that’s what I love about these guys: I don’t have to hold them accountable; they hold each other accountable.”
Heaps had a crucial message to his team when the group was trailing 2-0 in the fourth inning of the deciding game: “I stopped them in front of the dugout, and I said, ‘Listen, look at that scoreboard, and that’s the last time you’re going to look at it tonight because the scoreboard contains results, and results don’t define you. What defines you is the process that you have.’
“I said that there’s seven innings in this baseball game, and we’ve been down before, and if we play all seven innings like our hair is on fire, to best of our ability, and we have the right mindset and the right process, the results will take care of themselves – and they did.”
Series MVP Reed Hill said that he felt “overwhelming joy” after winning the second-straight 5A state title. “Not everybody has the opportunity to win one, and we got to win two, so it’s been a great experience,” the senior infielder and pitcher said. “I’m so happy that I got to do it with these guys that I love so much.”
Game three winning pitcher Samuel Pace had similar feelings about winning it all again during his senior year. “Every day when we go out to practice, we know that we’re doing stuff that no other ball clubs are doing. We work harder than just about anybody in the state.”
Banks Langston got the win in game one as the starting pitcher. “We had the same process this year and last year. When you have the same process every year, you’re going to go far every year and do big things.”
Here’s how the blue map trophy was won:
GAME ONE: RHS 2, Holtville 0
Russellville’s series opening starting pitcher Banks Langston was on his game with a tremendous outing to get things underway in front of a packed house in Oxford. The right-hander went 6 2/3 innings of the seven-inning contest for the win.
Langston threw 99 pitches and allowed three hits. He struck out six Bulldogs and walked two.
Fellow junior Brayden Spurgeon come on in relief to get the game’s final out. Tanner Potts went the distance on the mound for HHS.
Catcher Canyon Pace helped the Russellville cause by throwing out two runners who attempted to steal second base for Holtville.
The two teams were scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Russellville scored a run on fielder’s choice RBI by Grayson Thorpe. The Golden Tigers added a run the following inning when a Nathan Brockway double resulted in an RBI.
Casen Heaps also doubled, and he was joined in the RHS hit column by Eli Gipson, Ethan Oliver and Spurgeon.
GAME TWO: Holtville 3, RHS 2
The two teams met again the following hot afternoon at Jacksonville State’s Jim Case Stadium, with Holtville in a must-win situation to keep the season alive. A full stadium of more than 2,000 fans was in attendance to witness the two talented teams battle it out on the field.
Holtville took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Russellville answered and took a 2-1 advantage the following inning when a Brandt Cummings pinch-hit sacrifice bunt was followed by a Reed Hill two-RBI single.
HHS came back with a couple of runs in the bottom of the fifth when a Sam Silas RBI single was followed by a run on a wild pitch.
Wilson got the start on the mound and went the distance for Holtville. Logan White was the RHS starter, and he went 4 2/3 innings before Hill came on in relief. Hill allowed no hits or runs and struck out a batter.
Eli Gipson led Russellville with two hits. Canyon Pace and Casen Heaps also hit safely.
GAME THREE: RHS 12, Holtville 2
The winner-take-all game three held at Jacksonville State was taken by Russellville in a six-inning, 10-run-rule victory.
RHS starting pitcher Samuel Pace was once again called upon to lead the team to victory, and he answered – a week after doing the same in the semifinals versus Madison Academy.
The senior right-hander pitched another complete game. This time, he gave up six hits and struck out three.
Drey Barrett was the HHS starter.
Holtville (35-7) jumped out to a 1-0 first inning lead and held a 2-0 advantage when Russellville came alive. RHS tallied four runs in the bottom of the fourth and eight in the last of the sixth to end the game and the series.
Series MVP Hill led the Golden Tigers with three hits. He scored a run and had two RBIs during the second game of the day. Canyon Pace added two hits and two RBIs, and Spurgeon had two hits and one RBI. Andrew Hatton and Casen Heaps had a hit and RBI each, with both scoring multiple times.
Russellville (35-13) was seven-for-seven on stolen base attempts in the game, with Michael Scofield leading the team with three. Thorpe and Brockway drove in a run apiece, and the win was clinched when an E.J. Jones walk to keep the inning alive was followed by a Banks Langston RBI single that started the celebration.