Eric Russell remembers helping the LAMP basketball team to an 18-game winning streak, only to lose in the area tournament finals at home to Catholic.
Two months later, his Golden Tigers needed only a win over Alabama Christian in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader at the AUM Dixie Baseball Complex to win an area title.
Russell did his part, driving in the game-tying run with a double in the second, scoring the go-ahead run moments later and adding another run in the fourth as the ninth batter in the batting order to lead LAMP to a 7-4 victory and the 4A Area 4 championship.
“It’s been a long season but this is the goal we were trying to reach, Area 4 champions,” Russell said. “For me, personally, in basketball we were the runner up and played ACA in the semifinals and lost in the finals so in baseball, I was thinking I’ve got to win this, I’ve got to win an area championship before I graduate.”
LAMP (20-8) lost the second game of the doubleheader in an 18-12 slugfest that didn’t count in the area standings, but finished the area with a 5-1 record, ahead of a veteran Trinity squad (4-2) and an experienced ACA team (2-4) that hit the ball better than all of the Area 4 teams.
“We just won the right games and played well on the right day,” LAMP coach Chad Smith reasoned.
To beat the Eagles, his team needed clutch hitting and the Golden Tigers delivered on Thursday in a series-opening win at Paterson Field and again on Friday as LAMP answered every challenge from ACA, countering a two-run home run by Reece Solar in the bottom of the first that gave ACA a brief 2-1 lead with two runs in the second, thanks to Russell’s double, and another two runs in the fourth after a two-out home run by Todd Davis scored Russell, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.
“That was the difference in the game,” Smith said. “I told them before the game, you’ve got 12 seniors that are fighting to win their last game on their home field. They weren’t going to lay down and quit and we couldn’t do it, either.”
In the second game, ACA (17-11) scored six runs in the second and six more in the fourth to win their final home game of the 2019 season as Jackson Hibbard contributed a two-run double in the fourth and Preston Perry had a two-run triple in the sixth. Perry went 2 for 4 and drove in three runs, Dalton Mesaris went 3 for 3 with two RBIs and Solar went 2 for 3 to lead the offense as ACA rallied from a 4-0 deficit.
In the first game, Davis and Trace Deloney each went 2 for 4 but the entire offense contributed as Lance Phung walked to lead off the second before scoring on Russell’s hit, Russell reached base and scored on Davis’ hit and Deloney scored from first on a single in the gap by Austin Clark in the seventh.
For Russell, a senior who splits time in left field with Jun Park, his offense was crucial to match the offensive prowess of the Eagles.
“He was clutch,” Smith said. “He’s done it before but he hit well today.”
The Tigers have been winning all year with pitching and defense, so the offensive production came at the right time to help LAMP win the area title and earn a first-round playoff date at home next Friday against Dale County.
“It seems as the playoffs get closer, we’ve got to turn it up,” Russell said. “No more playing around. It’s playoff time.”