Russell’s 3-7 slump to start the baseball season wasn’t because it was getting blown away, but because “we’ve been in every game, it’s just something goes wrong,” coach Mike Martino said.
No one could find much fault with the Red Devils on Thursday. Pitchers Justin Fraley, Jacob McKee and Alan Jaworski combined on a three-hitter as host Russell topped Johnson Central, 3-2.
The Red Devils (7-8) won for the fourth time in their last five games. They’ve been competitive all along, with those seven early losses coming by an average of 2.1 runs per game.
“We’ve been consistent all year,” Martino said. “... Tonight everything went right.”
Fraley got the decision for Russell. He had no strikeouts in four innings, but scattered two hits and two walks and got eight of his 12 outs on fly balls.
“My defense was great tonight,” Fraley said. “It helps knowing that you can throw strikes with your team being there for you. They came out hitting tonight, backing me up.”
Russell designated hitter Elijah Hamilton hit a two-out, two-run single in the second inning to stake the Red Devils ahead for good. Austin Brinkman went 2-for-2 with a double for Russell.
Geordan Blanton had two of the Golden Eagles’ three hits, including an RBI single in the sixth inning that got Johnson Central (13-8) within a run with six outs remaining.
But McKee and Jaworski combined to mow down the next six hitters to end the game.
Johnson Central (13-8) is 4-7 since its 9-1 start to the season.
“We played well enough to usually win, but you gotta score runs in high school baseball,” Golden Eagles coach Shawn Hall said. “You can’t go up there and hit weak ground balls and not adjust to an umpire’s strike zone and expect to win.”
Umpire Cary Lyle’s strike zone was consistently forgiving on the outside corner. Russell pitching took advantage, and the Golden Eagles didn’t adjust, Hall said.
“The umpire had a wide zone, but he had a wide zone for both teams,” Hall said. “We didn’t hit the ball very well, but (Russell) didn’t make many mistakes on the mound. They did a good job keeping it away and keeping it in the umpire’s zone. You do that and you follow the rules of the zone up there, you’re gonna win.”
Hamilton laced his two-run single just past the glove of Golden Eagles starter Juwan Mayes and into center field to plate Garion Robinson and courtesy runner Maxx Blackburn in the second inning.
Jordan Young’s bases-loaded groundout scored courtesy runner Austin Davis in the top of the third as Johnson Central climbed back within 2-1. McKee singled home Heath Hensley in the home half to get that one back.
Russell had been 0-4 when scoring four or fewer runs, but three were sufficient Thursday.
“We bunted the ball well. We took pitches when we had to,” Martino said. “I thought we swung at a lot of good pitches. We hit a lot of hard balls. Even our outs were hard. I was really happy.”
Johnson Central’s offense seems to come and go in bunches. The Golden Eagles have scored eight or more runs eight times this year. They’ve also tallied three or fewer on seven occasions, including Thursday, and are 1-6 in such games.
As for Russell, it’s just happy to be occupying the win column.
“We’re definitely back on the right track,” Fraley said.
J. CENTRAL 001 001 0 — 2 3 2
RUSSELL 021 000 X — 3 6 1
Fraley, McKee (5), Jaworski (7) and A. Brinkman; Mayes, Ratliff (5) and Gamble. W — Fraley. L — Mayes. 2B — A. Brinkman (R).
ZACK KLEMME can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.