O'FALLON, Mo. — The Russellville Indians finished third in state for baseball after the team defeated the Skyline Tigers 6-4 in the Class 2 third-place game May 29 at O'Fallon.
The Indians were in the third place game after they were defeated by the Mansfield Lions 16-4 in the semifinals, May 28.
In the semifinal game, the Indians gave up two runs in the first inning to trail 2-0. Russellville fought back to tie the game in the top of the third inning, as they scored two runs. The first run came off of a Mason Stewart single with two outs that scored Ethan Huff from second base. Austin Roe, the next batter up, lined a triple to right field to tie the game at 2-2.
Mansfield answered back with a five-run inning in the bottom of the third to take a 7-2 lead. The Lions loaded the bases, thanks to two singles and a walk. Then, an error in center field led to Mansfield regaining the lead at 3-2. Then, Jacob Gray hit a two-run double to make it a 5-3 game. The Indians got the first out of the inning on the sixth batter on a ground out that scored another run to make it 6-2. The Lions scored one more run in the inning.
Russellville responded in the top of the fourth inning, as they cut the lead down to a three-run game at 7-4. Trenton Morrow hit an RBI triple in the inning and then scored after Landon Plochberger hit a single during the next at-bat. Later in the inning, the Indians had the bases loaded and one out, but were unable to score again.
The game then got out of hand in the bottom of the fourth, as Mansfield scored nine runs to make it a 16-4 game. The Lions scored their 16 runs on nine hits and capitalized on Russellville's four errors and seven walks. The inning did not get off to a good start, as Mansfield loaded the bases after their first three batters got on board. Then, Jordan Evans hit a double that unloaded the bases to make it 10-4. Mansfield then slowly added to its lead throughout the inning.
After the two big innings in a row, Head Coach Lucas Branson said the coaches tried to keep a positive attitude for the team.
"The big innings were not the ideal scenario we wanted and obviously impacted our chances of winning," Branson said. "We tried to make sure our kids stayed as positive as possible and continued to try to compete."
Branson said the walks impacted the flow of the game, but the pitchers still pitched the way they wanted to.
"I feel like our (guys) were doing a good job of trying to execute their pitches, as we wanted to and not pitch to several of their hitters right in the middle of the plate," Branson said.
Austin Roe started the game for the Indians and he pitched three innings, where he gave up 11 runs, nine of which were earned on five hits and six walks. Roe also struck out five batters. Nick Thompson pitched two-thirds of an inning, where he gave up five runs, one of which was earned on three hits and one walk. He also struck out one batter. Mason Stewart pitched a third of an inning, where he gave up one walk.
In the top of the fifth inning, after a lead off single by Matt Miller, the Indians struck out three times to end the game.
Despite the loss, Branson said the team competed in every play.
Branson said it was difficult trying to play catch-up the whole game.
"Our goal is to try to win every inning each game and it becomes frustrating when we get some momentum on our side, but then it is taken away from us," he said. "Mansfield is a very good team who had been in that situation before and they put the pressure on us early; so that is the main thing we have to take away from that game from a learning standpoint."
In the third place game, the Indians did not need to play catch up, as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Skyline in the bottom of the first inning. After Nick Thompson led off the inning for the Indians with a double, he advanced to third base on a pass ball and scored off of a sacrifice fly by Mason Stewart. Later in the inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Trenton Morrow hit a single that scored Austin Roe and Matt Miller to make it 3-0.
Branson said he did not see a big difference in how his team played in the two games.
"Our players continued to play hard, but also make sure they were having fun and enjoying the moment of being in the final four," Branson said.
Skyline cut into the lead in the top of the second inning to make it a 3-1 game, but Russellville answered with a run of their own to make it a 4-1 game in the bottom half of the inning. Ethan Huff scored on a ground out by Stewart in the inning.
Skyline inched closer to the Indians, thanks to a two-run top of the third inning to make it 4-3. There were two errors in the inning that helped Skyline score. The Indians had six errors in the game, yet they were able to overcome their mistakes.
"Our guys have shown a tremendous amount of heart over the past month, finding ways to win games and overcome mistakes," Branson said. "They have really done a great job of letting go of a mistake and not letting it affect a later play during the game."
Skyline tied the game in the top of the fifth inning at 4-4. Russellville took the lead for good, thanks to a two-run bottom of the sixth inning. After two quick outs, Huff got on base for the Indians, thanks to a Skyline error. After Thompson hit a single that advanced him to second base, Huff scored on a single by Stewart to make it a 5-4 game. Roe, the next batter up, hit a double that scored Thompson, to make it 6-4 but Stewart was thrown out at home to end the inning.
"I think our guys knew we were in a great spot and were excited for what we had accomplished in the sixth, scoring a run with two outs," Branson said. "That really became something we had been doing very well over the past handful of games, so to see it again in a crucial moment, it was obviously exciting."
The top of the seventh inning started off scary for Russellville, as Skyline loaded the bases with no one out. But pitcher Trenton Morrow forced a fly out and a game-ending double play to secure the victory .
"I am really proud of what these young men accomplished this year," Branson said. "It was our goal from the very beginning, even going back to after our loss to Canton in the quarterfinals in 2017; so to see them reach a goal and have fun playing together, creating lifetime memories, that is all I can ask for."