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Russellville rally fizzles against Lawrence County in first-round loss

ATHENS - Russellville’s girls dug themselves an early hole against Lawrence County on Thursday and couldn’t climb out, falling 12-6 to the Lady Red Devils in the first round of the Class 5A, Area 16 tournament at East Limestone High School.

The Lady Golden Tigers, who won both regular-season meetings between the two teams, trailed 6-1 in the third inning on Thursday and 9-2 after the top of the fourth. They fought back to within 9-6 on Autumn Logan’s two-run single in the bottom of the inning and later had the tying run on base in the bottom of the sixth, but Lawrence County pitcher Lauren Hopper got a critical out to escape the jam unscathed.

The Lady Red Devils iced the game with three runs in the top of the seventh, earning a date with top seed East Limestone in the winner’s bracket final. Russellville (17-17-2) fell into the loser’s bracket and will face fourth-seeded Brooks in an elimination game on Friday at 3 p.m. The Lady Golden Tigers will have to win that game and then another at 5 p.m. to clinch a regional berth for a third straight year.

After Megan Warhurst got a big strikeout to leave the bases loaded in the top of the first, Russellville grabbed an early lead in the bottom half. Krista Sikes smacked the first pitch she saw from Hopper into center field for a hit, and Alivia Clemmons followed with another first-pitch single to put runners at the corners. Sikes came home on a groundout by Logan to put the Lady Golden Tigers on top 1-0.

Lawrence County took advantage of two errors to score the tying run off Warhurst in the top of the second, and Russellville caught a bad break in the bottom half when Sydney Burcham smoked a line drive right at the third baseman with two on and two outs.

The Lady Red Devils took the lead for good in the top of the third, scoring five runs with two outs in the inning. Kendall Terry drew a bases-loaded walk on a borderline 3-2 pitch to break the tie, and Sadie Thompson followed with a two-run single to right. Two more runs scored on an error, stretching the lead to 6-1.

Russellville got one of those runs back in the bottom of the third but could easily have scored more if not for a couple of standout defensive plays by Lawrence County. Sikes led off the inning with a single to left, and Clemmons followed with a groundball to deep short that had base hit written all over it. Moesha McDaniel made a terrific back-hand stab and strong throw to first to get Clemmons for the first out. Logan followed with a line-drive single to center, but Thompson threw a strike to the plate to nail Sikes on a close play for out number two.

Taylor singled to right to bring home Logan, but Hopper retired Karlie Moore on a grounder to short to keep it a 6-2 game.

Singles by McDaniel and Kaylee Nelson to start the top of the fourth chased Warhurst, and reliever Emma Whitfield hit Gracie Martin with a pitch to load the bases. Kati-Beth McWhorter hit a groundball that bounced off the third-base bag for an RBI single, and Chloe Orr drew a bases-loaded walk. Whitfield got Terry to ground into a force play at the plate, but Thompson’s sac fly to right brought home McWhorter to make it 9-2.

The Lady Golden Tigers got the bats going against reliever Kaylee Nelson in the bottom of the fourth. Seventh-grader Jenna Whitfield led off with a single to center, and Makala O’Neal drove a double to deep left-center to put runners at second and third. Russellville caught another tough break when Rogers hit a soft liner toward third and was called out on a diving catch by Hopper, even though the ball appeared to hit the ground first.

Burcham was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Nelson got Sikes to hit into a force play at the plate. Clemmons came through with a clutch two-out hit, singling up the middle to bring home O’Neal. Burcham scored on a wild pitch, and then Logan drove in two more with a base hit up the middle to cut the lead to 9-6.

Whitfield worked a one-two-three top of the fifth, and the Lady Golden Tigers looked to have another rally working in the bottom of the inning when another web gem by Lawrence County snuffed it out. Moore led off the inning with a rocket to short for an infield hit, and Jenna Whitfield followed with a sharp grounder toward the hole on the right side. Second baseman Scarlett Jones made a terrific diving stop and got Whitfield at first for the first out. Nelson retired O’Neal on a fielder’s choice and then struck out Rogers to end the inning.

Lawrence County got a runner to third with two outs in the top of the sixth, but Clemmons made a nice running grab at the fence in left on a deep drive by Terry to end the inning. The Lady Golden Tigers mounted their final rally in the bottom of the sixth, loading the bases on two walks and an error, but Hopper (who re-entered the circle to start the sixth) got Moore on a groundball to third to end the threat.

Rogers made a nice running grab in deep right-center on a ball hit by Thompson to start the top of the seventh, but Lawrence County put together four hits and three errors by Russellville to score three insurance runs. The Lady Golden Tigers were charged with six errors on the night, leading to five unearned runs.

Hopper was the winning pitcher, allowing two earned runs on six hits in five innings. McDaniel had three of Lawrence County's 13 hits.

Sikes went 2-for-4 and scored twice, and Logan was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run. Clemmons was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run, and O’Neal went 2-for-4 and scored a run. Whitfield, Moore and Taylor each had one of Russellville’s 11 hits.

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