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Russellville bests Linn for district baseball crown

NEW BLOOMFIELD — The Russellville Indians did almost everything right in Wednesday night’s Class 2 District 8 title game against Linn. That is except for the postgame celebration.

Russellville coach Lucas Branson was a little too quick when his team tried to give him a bath of water after the game.

“I kind of snuck a peek and saw they were coming with that cooler,” Branson joked after his team defeated Linn 10-4 to advance to the state sectionals. “I’m a little quicker than they thought I was.”

One of the few mistakes the Indians made all night was of little significance as they jumped out to a 9-1 lead and were on cruise control the rest of the game.

It started for the Indians with six runs in the bottom of the first. All six runs came with two outs and all six runs were unearned.

“That first inning we get the first couple guys out and you’re thinking, ‘Well at least maybe we can get something going,’” Branson said. “And then to bat around and send six straight guys to the plate and not make an out, that was key for us, that first inning.”

Chandler Wolf reached on an error with two outs and that set the wheels in motion. The Indians sent nine men to the plate in the inning and recorded four hits, including a two-run single by Nick Haslag.

They nearly did it again in the second as eight men came to the plate as the Indians took a 6-0 lead. They added three more in the third to go up 9-1 with the big hit coming on a two-run double by Wolf.

“That’s what we talked about before the game,” Branson said. “Really after last night’s game, we wanted to put ourselves in position to score early, and allow us to play a little bit more comfortable and loose.”

The runs were more than enough for Russellville starter Wolf, who pitched a complete game. He allowed three earned runs on six hits. He was effectively wild as he walked four and hit a pair, but he pitched out of trouble as Linn left 10 runners on base. He seemed to reach for a little something extra when Linn put men on base.

Wolf, who struck out nine, was fresh for the start after inducing a double-play in 2/3 of an inning to end Tuesday’s 5-1 win against New Bloomfield in the semifinals.

“You give him a lead and he’s pretty tough,” Branson said. “He wasn’t on tonight, but he battled and I know the pitch count was out the window in this game. He worked, and we played pretty solid defense behind him.”

Linn picked up an unearned run in the third and three runs in the fourth on RBI singles by Alec Shoop, Ryan Mantle and Jake Mebruer. But Wolf escaped the inning as Linn had just one hit the rest of the game.

The Wildcats left runners on base in six innings, including multiple runners in four innings.

“We had our opportunities,” Linn coach Colby Nilges said. “We struggled putting those couple hits together in the same inning. They outhit us and that’s the way baseball is. You learn from it.”

Shoop took the loss for Linn (14-6), allowing six runs (two earned) on six hits in two innings.

Russellville (15-7) outhit Linn 11-7 as Clayton Harrison finished with three hits. Kaleb Libbert and Haslag added two hits and three RBI each for the Indians, who won their first district title since 2006.

Now it’s on to face Harrisburg, a team Russellville beat 10-0 in the regular season. Branson noted Harrisburg was missing a few players due to injury and illness for that game.

Harrisburg ended Russellville’s season in last year’s district tournament.

“They play very hard-nosed baseball and it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Branson said.

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