BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DIALY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODSWith one of its customary big numbers and in spite of another, Russell reached a high total it hadn’t scaled in 11 years on Monday.
The Red Devils, third in the 16th Region in both runs scored and runs allowed, padded both totals in a 10-9 eight-inning win over West Carter.
Casey Hensley hit a walk-off RBI single and Russell recorded its 20th regular-season victory for the first time since 2006 in circuitous fashion. The Red Devils got down, 2-0, sprung to a 9-2 lead, and then saw the Comets score seven straight runs to tie the game.
“That fight that we have, I love that,” said Russell coach Tim Rice. “A lot of teams would’ve laid down ... but we just kept battling.
“To get to where we’re at right now with 20 wins, you gotta win some ugly ones, and that’s what we did. We fought through and won an ugly one tonight.”
Hensley and Landon Brewer were each 4 for 5, Kenneth Gomez and Austin Brinkman produced two hits apiece and Nick Conley homered for the Red Devils. Brinkman drove in three runs, and Brewer and Troy Gillum each knocked in two.
Justin Manning got the win in relief, pitching out of trouble in both the seventh and eighth innings to set the stage for Hensley.
With the game tied at 9, Brewer singled with one out in the eighth inning, stole second base and moved to third on a Comet throw to first base to complete a strikeout. Hensley followed with a sharp single to left-center to plate Brewer.
“I was just trying to protect, hit a ground ball, and he threw me a fastball I could hit,” Hensley said of West Carter reliever Dalton Brown.
West Carter got two runners aboard in both of its last two at-bats but couldn’t plate a run. In the seventh inning, Russell intentionally walked Peyton Brown to load the bases with one out. The next Comet batter couldn’t get the bunt down on a suicide squeeze, and the runner coming home from third was easily tagged out.
J.T. Johnson led off the Comets eighth with a double. Cleanup hitter Kaden Rose, who had homered over the scoreboard his previous time up, was next, and West Carter coach Tim Johnson elected to let him bat instead of bunt. Rose flied out to center field.
“You were probably over there looking, saying, ‘Why did you not bunt him? Why did you not?’” Johnson said with a rueful grin of Rose. “We had our No. 4 stick up. He’s swinging the bat really well. He’s the best bunter in the 16th Region. People don’t realize that because we don’t bunt him a lot because he’s a good hitter.
“(But) all we have to do is bunt the runner to third and have one out, fly ball, passed ball, anything is a run.”
Richard McGlone next reached base when his high fly ball dropped safely in, putting a pair of runners on with one out. But the next Comet bounced to Gillum at shortstop, who erased J.T. Johnson at third base, and Manning got the next hitter swinging to preserve the tie.
Manning pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief of Jaeden Layne and Cole Cordle. He allowed four hits and no runs and struck out three. He ended each inning with a punchout.
“He worked himself into some jams and was able to make some great pitches and capitalize on some things that (West Carter) did to get us out,” Rice said. “We made some pretty good defensive plays behind him.” J.T. Johnson was 4 for 5 and drove in four runs for the Comets (15-10). Peyton Brown and McGlone each had three hits and Ben Wilburn collected two. Rose homered in the sixth inning to complete West Carter’s game-tying rally.
“Tonight’s game, I think we took more from it than (Russell) did,” Tim Johnson said, “because they jumped out early, and they let us battle back.”
Dalton Brown pitched three scoreless innings of relief before the eighth, but was saddled with the setback. He had four strikeouts and allowed four hits and one walk.
Russell (20-11) has plenty of experience with both hanging crooked numbers and surrendering them, though not usually at the same time — the Red Devils have won 10 games by seven runs or more and lost six by the same margin.
“To stay mentally strong, even though we did make some mistakes earlier in the game,” Rice said, “that’s key to winning ball games like that.”
W.CARTER 200 052 00— 915 1 RUSSELL 422 100 01—10142 Thornsberry, D. Brown (5) and Rose; Layne, Cordle (5), Manning (6) and Brinkman. W— Manning. L—D. Brown. 2B—P. Brown (WC), D. Brown (WC), Johnson (WC), McGlone (WC), Tackett (WC), Brewer (R), Hensley (R), Brinkman (R). HR—Rose (WC), Conley (R).
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