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Pitching, defense lead Russellville to third straight district championship

Pitching, defense lead Russellville to third straight district championship

May 15th, 2019 by Jason Strickland in Sports Prep

Russellville teammates Dawson Koch, Nick Thompson, Trenton Morrow and Nikolas Graham celebrate after the Indians defeated the Eugene Eagles 3-2 to win Tuesday's Class 2 District 9 championship game in Eugene.

Photo by Jason Strickland /News Tribune.

EUGENE, Mo. — The Russellville Indians are where they expected to be at this time of the year.

"It's a mindset for us," Russellville coach Lucas Branson said. "We expect to be in this game every year."

After allowing two runs and five hits in the first two innings, Nick Thompson retired 16 straight batters to lead the Indians to a 3-2 victory against the Eugene Eagles on Tuesday in the Class 2 District 9 championship game.

It's the third straight district championship for the top-seeded Indians, who finished third in the state last season and made it to the quarterfinals two years ago.

"They don't get any easier but I couldn't be more happy with what our kids did, the way they competed all year long," Branson said. "Started off the year ranked very high. We knew we had targets on our back.

"They knew they had to go through us. Credit our kids for making sure they stayed with it all year long because there were some challenges."

Russellville (19-9), which began the season ranked second in the Missouri High School Baseball coaches Association poll, is sixth in the latest rankings.

"You can't hang your head when you lose to one of the best teams in the state," Eugene coach Garrett Haslag said. "Hats off to them and best of luck to them."

Eugene, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, took down second-seeded and fifth-ranked Vienna to reach the title game and plated the first run of Tuesday's game.

Tyler Renn, Billy Parr and Ethan Adrian each singled with two outs in the first to go up 1-0.

After the Indians scored two runs in the bottom half, Eugene tied it thanks to another two-out rally.

Jaden Chapman reached on an error, Tre Kempker sent a fly ball to center field for a single and Gavin Magers drove in the tying run with a single to center field.

"We came out ready to hit the baseball," Haslag said.

Then a flyout to center field began the string of 16 consecutive outs recorded by Thompson, who struck out four and walked none in seven innings.

"What Nick did on the mound, just incredible," Branson said. "He's a strike thrower. He's not going to blow people away and we felt really good about him tonight in this situation just because he goes out there and competes and leaves it all on the field."

Meanwhile, Russellville was stranding runners in scoring position to keep the score tied.

The Indians loaded the bases on a pair of walks and a hit by pitch only to end the third inning with a groundout.

Chandler Miller led off the bottom of the fourth with a double over the left fielder's head and runner Ethan Huff went to third on a dropped third strike.

But Eugene's defensive play kept Huff at bay as third baseman Adin Sommerer caught a sharp line drive and first baseman Renn flipped a ground ball to the pitcher Adrian to beat Mason Stewart's slide to first base.

"We hit a lot of balls right at people and they made some nice defensive plays too to keep us from being able to get more runs," Branson said.

Russellville got the run it needed the next inning. Austin Roe led off with a single to left, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Matthew Miller's sacrifice fly to center field for a 3-2 lead.

"Kind of the old-fashioned way rather than hitting doubles and triples and things that are cool that we like to do," Branson said. "It was nice to see that."

Russellville's defense helped close it out.

In the top of the fifth, Braden Hickey made a diving snag in center field for the first out. In the seventh, Dawson Koch corralled two hard grounders at third base.

"Our biggest strength we feel like is what we do on the mound and what we do defensively," Branson said. "We've got nine or 10 guys that we trust in any situation in a varsity game and there's very few Class 2 teams that can say that. Defensively we've got athletes. These kids, they are not afraid to dive."

Russellville got three runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks against Adrian, who struck out four.

"So proud of Ethan Adrian," Haslag said. "He didn't have his best stuff today, but was able to keep us in it."

The Indians tied it at 1 in the first when Koch reached on an error, allowing Roe to score. Trenton Morrow later sent a fly ball to shallow center field to drive in a run for a 2-1 lead.

Five players recorded one hit for Eugene and four Russellville players had one hit each.

Eugene ends it season with a record of 11-10.

Russellville advances to host in the sectional round Monday. The Indians will face the winner of No. 10 Skyline and Lincoln. Those teams play for the District 10 championship at 5 p.m. today in Urbana.