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Russellville wins back-to-back district baseball titles for first time

Russellville wins back-to-back district baseball titles for first time

May 17th, 2018 by Greg Jackson in Sports Prep

Russellville's Mason Stewart connects for an RBI single in the fourth inning against Harrisburg in the Class 2 District 7 Tournament championship game Wednesday at New Bloomfield.

Photo by Greg Jackson /News Tribune.

NEW BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — Heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, the Russellville Indians were clinging to a two-run lead against the Harrisburg Bulldogs in the championship game of the Class 2 District 7 Tournament.

Russellville coach Lucas Branson urged his team to make some noise. They did, first literally, then figuratively.

The Indians scored a run that inning, then added another in the next. Those insurance runs helped Russellville pull out a 6-3 victory Wednesday against Harrisburg at Haley Field to win the district title.

"We talked with our kids about it this morning, our dugout has to have a high level of energy the entire time," Branson said. "We had to make sure we were up being positive, staying involved in the game. They did a fantastic job with that."

Wednesday's win gives Russellville back-to-back district championships, the first time in program history the Indians have accomplished that feat.

"I'm not sure the kids even realized that until I told them," Branson said.

Russellville made some noise with the bats in the bottom of the fourth, but it was one play in the top half of the inning that started the momentum swing.

Harrisburg had already scored twice in the fourth, cutting its deficit in half to 4-2. The Bulldogs had runners on second and third base with two outs, when Charles Strain hit a ground ball into the hole between shortstop and third base.

Russellville shortstop Mason Stewart snagged the ball moving to his right, then turned in mid-air and threw to first baseman Riley Marcum, who made the catch just before a diving Strain reached the bag to end the inning.

"Mason's kind of sneaky," Branson said. "He works on stuff like that in practice, that play in the hole with the jump-throw. What a moment for it to come through.

"I told Mason that's probably one of the greatest plays I've seen a high school shortstop make."

That wasn't the only defensive highlight of the game for Russellville. Stewart snagged a line drive up the middle for the first out of the third inning. Three batters later, center fielder Braden Hickey make a diving catch in shallow right-center to rob Harrisburg's Jonah Sanford of an RBI hit.

"I talk to my players all the time about our defensive hitting charts for the other team," Branson said. "I felt like we were going to have to have a couple of star defensive plays tonight."

Stewart did more than flash his glove. His RBI single to right field in the bottom of the fourth scored Nick Thompson to extend the Russellville lead to 5-2.

Then in the sixth, Stewart singled again, this time up the middle to score Chandler Miller to make it a four-run lead. The Russellville junior went 3-for-3 with three RBI, adding another RBI single in the second inning.

Harrisburg got a run back in the sixth on an RBI single by Brayden Hudson, but Russellville stranded two runners in scoring position to get out of another jam.

Russellville's Trent Morrow caught the first three innings, then pitched the final four innings to get the win.

Morrow struck out two and walked two in the seventh, bringing the tying run to the plate. That prompted a mound visit from Branson.

"I just wanted to make sure he knew the defense was behind him," Branson said.

Morrow got the next batter to ground out to Marcum, who touched the first-base bag to end the game.

Russellville scored the game's first four runs, and three of those runs came courtesy of Austin Roe's bat.

The junior left-hander tripled to right-center field to drive in two runs in the first, then he tripled into the right-field corner to score another run in the second.

"That was a huge hit," Branson said of Roe's first-inning triple. "He jumped up there and hit the first pitch he saw as hard as he could. That really set the tone for us offensively."

Miller went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles for Russellville, which collected eight hits off three Harrisburg pitchers.

Roe started on the mound for the first three-plus innings for Russellville. He gave up two runs on two hits with four walks and three strikeouts. Morrow finished with five strikeouts and two walks while scattering six hits, allowing one run.

Ryan Freeman took the loss for Harrisburg. He allowed four runs on six hits with one strikeout and one walk in three innings. Cade Combs and Dustin Gipson combined to pitch three innings in relief.

Hudson went 2-for-2 with two RBI for Harrisburg (11-12) and Austin Bruns had an RBI double in the fourth.

Russellville (17-13), the No. 1 seed in its district and a winner of seven straight games, will play next Monday at Iberia in the Class 2 sectional round. First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

"It's a team we haven't played a whole lot the last couple of years," Branson said. "We're not familiar with them, but we'll do what we can to get ready for that one."

Iberia (17-2), ranked No. 9 in Class 2, won the District 8 championship Wednesday, knocking off top-seeded Vienna — ranked No. 3 in Class 2 — with a 5-1 victory.