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Fourth straight title would put Golden Tigers in super-elite company

This week in Montgomery, Russellville will try and become only the fifth school ever in the state of Alabama—and the first in Class 5A—to win four consecutive baseball state championships.

All that’s left standing between the Golden Tigers (30-15) and history is the No. 4 high school baseball team in the entire country.

Faith Academy (32-3) out of Mobile was ranked fourth by Perfect Game USA in the most recent edition of its National High School Top 50. Faith, Class 5A runner-up to Russellville in each of the previous two years, has lost only three games this season: 4-0 to Smiths Station on March 10; 2-1 to McGill-Toolen on March 12; and 5-4 to Area 1 rival St. Paul’s on April 12.

The Rams opened the season 8-0, then dropped two out of three, then won their next 13 games. Since the area loss to St. Paul’s in mid-April, Faith has won 10 in a row, including a perfect 8-0 mark through the first four rounds of the playoffs.

The last 5A team to run through the postseason with a perfect 10-0 record was, of course, the Golden Tigers, who swept five consecutive series in 2015 on their way to winning the first state championship in program history. Series wins over Faith in 2016 and 2017 have placed Russellville in a select group of schools that have won three baseball titles in a row: Cottonwood (1985-87 in Class 2A), Sweet Water (1988-90 in Class 1A/2A), Tallassee (1989-91 in Class 4A), Hartselle (1990-92 in Class 5A), American Christian (2004-06 in Class 1A), Shoals Christian (2010-12 in Class 1A), Spanish Fort (2010-12 in Class 5A), Madison Academy (2014-16 in Class 3A) and Russellville (2015-17 in Class 5A).

Of the first eight teams on that list, none managed to extend their championship streak to four. Most recently, Madison Academy made it back to Montgomery as a 4A team in 2017, losing in the finals to UMS-Wright. Spanish Fort also arrived in Montgomery with a chance to four-peat in 2013, only to lose in the state finals to Hartselle. That same year, Shoals Christian saw its title run end with a loss to St. Luke’s in the Class 1A finals.

Only four teams in state history have won as many as four baseball state championships in a row, and all four won at least six: Sidney Lanier won six in a row from 1950-55, before the state was divided into classifications; Vestavia Hills won seven straight from 1994-2000 in Class 6A; G.W. Long won six in a row from 1997-2002 (the first two in 2A, the last four in 1A); and Hokes Bluff won six straight from 2003-08 (the first two in 4A, the last four in 3A).

That’s the group Russellville is looking to join this week in Montgomery. Game 1 against Faith is set for Thursday at 4 p.m. at Paterson Field, with Game 2 and (if necessary) Game 3 scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Friday at Riverwalk Stadium. All games will be broadcast live on WGOL-AM 920 and 100.7 FM.

Below is a look at the key numbers and prospective lineups/pitching staffs for both teams heading into Thursday’s action.

Faith Academy Rams

Head coach: Matt Seymour (record N/A)

2018 Record: 32-3 (8-0 in playoffs)

Runs scored: 322 (9.2 per game); 67 runs scored in eight playoff games (8.4)

Runs allowed: 87 (2.5 per game); 20 runs allowed in eight playoff games (2.5)

Team Batting: 337 hits/982 AB (.343), 39 HR, 16 TR, 69 DB, 114 BB, 58 HBP, 199 K, 84 SB, 11 sac bunts, .433 OBP

CF Senior Jackson Bell: 38/107 (.355), 6 HR, 7 DB, 22 RBI, 39 runs, 11 SB, .474 OBP

-A Coastal Alabama Community College signee, Bell is 9-for-28 in the playoffs

C Senior Chris Sargent: 50/121 (.413), 6 HR, 5 TR, 8 DB, 41 RBI, 20 runs, .444 OBP

-Also a Coastal Alabama signee, Sargent is 15-for-30 in the playoffs with one HR

P Senior Reece Ewing: 36/109 (.330), 8 HR, 12 DB, 37 RBI, 29 runs, .419 OBP

-A Samford signee, Ewing is 12-for-29 in the playoffs with five HR and 13 RBI

RF Senior Braxton Bell: 28/85 (.329), 4 HR, 7 DB, 21 RBI, 32 runs, .468 OBP

-Another Coastal Alabama signee, Bell is 8-for-21 in the playoffs with two HR

SS Sophomore J.G. Bell: 31/89 (.348), 2 HR, 9 DB, 21 RBI, 28 R, 12 SB, .412 OBP

-John Griffin is 9-for-26 in the playoffs with one HR

LF Senior Parker Mills: 30/84 (.357), 3 HR, 5 DB, 17 RBI, 22 runs, 11 SB, .423 OBP

-Mills is 7-for-27 in the playoffs

1B Senior Michael Garcia: 23/91 (.253), 2 HR, 20 RBI, 18 runs, .324 OBP

-Garcia overcame a 1-for-35 start and is 11-for-23 in the playoffs with two HR

DH Sophomore Alex McWhorter: 13/37 (.351), 8 RBI, 8 runs, .390 OBP

-Filling in for injured senior Gabe Shepard, McWhorter is 4-for-13 in the playoffs

3B Sophomore Bryant Andrews: 18/60 (.300), 1 HR, 7 DB, 16 RBI, 18 runs, .408 OBP

-Andrews is 3-for-17 in the playoffs

Team Pitching: 32-3, 1.72 ERA, 227.2 IP, 143 hits, 317 K, 102 BB, 29 HBP

Senior Reece Ewing: 10-2, 2.22 ERA, 63 IP, 38 hits, 106 K, 25 BB, 8 HBP

-The Samford signee is 3-0 in the playoffs with 42 K in 23.2 IP

Sophomore Eli Giles: 5-1, 0.76 ERA, 46.1 IP, 26 hits, 53 K, 22 BB, 3 HBP, 3 saves

-Giles has replaced the injured Shepard as Faith’s No. 2 starter

Senior Jackson Bell: 3-0, 2.10 ERA, 20.1 IP, 16 hits, 18 K, 5 BB, 3 HBP, 2 saves

Sophomore James Flynn: 2-0, 3.71 ERA, 17.1 IP, 12 hits, 23 K, 13 BB, 1 HBP

Sophomore Alex McWhorter: 3-0, 2.33 ERA, 18.1 IP, 14 hits, 28 K, 7 BB, 6 HBP

Junior Cole Howell: 1-0, 2.10 ERA, 9.2 IP, 3 ER, 10 hits, 12 K, 3 BB, 2 HBP

Senior Gabe Shepard*: 5-0, 0.80 ERA, 35.1 IP, 19 hits, 60 K, 19 BB, 4 HBP

*-Out for season after undergoing Tommy John surgery

Russellville Golden Tigers

Head coach Chris Heaps: 192-78 in six seasons at RHS (38-5 in playoffs)

2018 Record: 30-15 (8-2 in playoffs)

Runs scored: 305 (6.8 per game); 97 runs scored in 10 playoff games (9.7)

Runs allowed: 179 (4.0 per game); 46 runs allowed in 10 playoff games (4.6)

Team Batting: 354 hits/1,219 AB (.290), 23 HR, 4 TR, 64 DB, 206 BB, 49 HBP, 273 K, 46 SB, 27 sac bunts, .403 OBP

DH Senior Noah Gist: 33/118 (.280), 3 DB, 10 RBI, 38 runs, 11 SB, .444 OBP

-Gist is 12-for-30 in the playoffs with 13 walks and 15 runs scored

SS Senior Rudy Fernandez: 50/144 (.347), 6 HR, 8 DB, 35 RBI, 37 runs, .449 OBP

-A Motlow State signee, Fernandez is 13-for-36 in the playoffs with 10 runs scored

1B Senior Landon Ezzell: 42/141 (.298), 9 HR, 14 DB, 43 RBI, 29 runs, .426 OBP

-Ezzell is 15-for-34 in the playoffs with four HR and 23 RBI in 10 games

3B Senior Houston Kitterman: 48/138 (.348), 3 HR, 21 RBI, 34 runs, .468 OBP

-Kitterman is 13-for-33 in the playoffs and has hit safely in 8 straight games

2B Senior Brock Malone: 40/135 (.296), 6 DB, 29 RBI, 27 runs, .371 OBP

-Malone is 12-for-33 in the playoffs with 9 RBI

RF Junior Devin Buckhalter: 44/131 (.336), 6 DB, 26 RBI, 28 runs, 15 SB, .393 OBP

-Buckhalter is 8-for-32 in the playoffs

P Junior Caden Parker: 27/83 (.325), 12 DB, 26 RBI, 18 runs, .456 OBP

-Parker is 10-for-26 in the playoffs with seven DB

C Junior Hunter Briles: 20/64 (.312), 1 DB, 12 RBI, .380 OBP

-Briles is 13-for-31 in the playoffs

CF Senior T.B. Scott: 27/126 (.214), 3 HR, 2 TR, 4 DB, 24 RBI, 32 runs, .320 OBP

-Tom Barkley is 5-for-27 in the playoffs

Team Pitching: 30-15, 2.86 ERA, 303.1 IP, 266 hits, 254 K, 139 BB, 51 HBP

Junior Caden Parker: 8-2, 2.30 ERA, 60.2 IP, 57 hits, 49 K, 18 BB, 6 HBP

-Parker held Mortimer Jordan to two hits in six scoreless innings last week

Senior Rudy Fernandez: 7-2, 3.68 ERA, 59 IP, 62 hits, 64 K, 26 BB, 7 HBP

-Fernandez is 3-0 in the playoffs

Senior Landon Ezzell: 6-4, 2.05 ERA, 57.2 IP, 44 hits, 53 K, 17 BB, 7 HBP

Senior Jaret Ward: 5-2, 2.12 ERA, 42.2 IP, 29 hits, 26 K, 26 BB, 9 HBP

Senior Houston Kitterman: 1-1, 3.18 ERA, 21.2 IP, 10 hits, 22 K, 16 BB, 3 HBP

Senior T.B. Scott: 2-3, 1.96 ERA, 24.2 IP, 25 hits, 17 K, 17 BB

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