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Golden Tigers blast four homers in area title-clinching rout of East Limestone

ATHENS - Russellville wrapped up its fourth consecutive area championship on Thursday, slugging four home runs and blasting East Limestone 19-8 in game one of a doubleheader.
 
With the wind blowing out at the Indians’ hitter-friendly home park, the Golden Tigers (20-13, 5-1 in Class 5A, Area 16) went deep in each of the first three innings, getting a two-run homer from Houston Kitterman in the first, a solo shot from Rudy Fernandez in the second and a three-run blast from Landon Ezzell in the third on their way to building an 11-0 lead.
 
East Limestone (13-14, 2-4) got a three-run homer from Payton Jackson in the bottom of the third, scoring six runs to get back in the game. Jaret Ward relieved Fernandez with two outs and runners at second and third, retiring Brady Kassay on a grounder to second to end the inning.
 
Tom Barkley Scott launched a long home run to left in the top of the fourth, making it 12-6, and Russellville put the game away with a seven-run fifth inning highlighted by Devin Buckhalter’s two-run single. The Indians scored twice in the bottom of the fifth, but Ward retired Jackson on a groundball to second to seal the win and clinch the area title.
 
The Golden Tigers, ranked No. 7 in Class 5A by the ASWA, will host No. 6 Etowah (24-9) in a best-of-three first-round series starting with a doubleheader next Friday at Russellville Baseball Stadium. Area 16 runner-up Brooks (18-15) will travel to face Area 13 champion Boaz (24-7, No. 5 in Class 5A) in round one.
 
The Golden Tigers grabbed an early lead in Thursday’s clincher with a big two-out rally in the top of the first. Ezzell got things started with a double down the left-field line, and Kitterman followed with a high fly ball to left that carried over the fence for his third home run of the season and the fifth of his varsity career—all of which have come in area play, including three against East Limestone.
 
Brock Malone ripped a double down the third-base line, and Buckhalter and Scott both walked to load the bases. Caden Parker came through with a two-run double to make it 4-0, and then Scott scored the final run of the inning when Hunter Briles reached on an infield hit.
 
Fernandez worked around a two-out single by Jackson in the bottom of the first and then helped himself in the top of the second, blasting his team-leading fifth home run of the season to left to make it 6-0. After Fernandez retired the Indians in order in the bottom half, Russellville scored five more runs on three hits and two errors in the top of the third. Buckhalter started the big inning with a double to deep right-center, and Ezzell capped it off with a high fly ball to left-center that landed just beyond the fence for a three-run homer, his fifth of the season and the 12th of his varsity career.
 
Fernandez got two quick outs to start the bottom of the third, but the next eight batters reached base for the Indians. Jackson’s three-run homer got them on the board, and they also got a two-run double from Brison Wooten and an RBI double from Cameron Johnson to cut the lead to 11-6.
 
Buckhalter led off the top of the fourth with a single but was picked off first. Scott followed with a no-doubter to left, his third home run of the year and the fifth of his career. Ward pitched around a hit batter and an error in the bottom of the fourth, and then Russellville broke it wide open with seven runs on four hits and two errors in the top of the fifth.
 
Fernandez got things going with a double to left-center, the Golden Tigers’ ninth extra-base hit of the game. A walk to Kitterman and a single by Malone loaded the bases, and then Buckhalter smoked a line drive back through the middle for a two-run single to make it 14-6. Two more runs would score on errors, and Noah Gist drove in another with an infield hit. Fernandez hit a sacrifice fly, and the final run of the inning scored on a wild pitch.
 
Buckhalter finished 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Ezzell was 2-for-5 with a homer, a double, three RBIs and two runs scored. Fernandez went 2-for-4 with a homer, a double, two RBIs and two runs, and Kitterman was 2-for-3 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs. Scott went 1-for-3 with a homer and scored four runs.
 
Parker doubled and drove in three, and Gist was 2-for-5 with an RBI. Malone went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
 
Ward (4-1) got the win, allowing two earned runs on three hits in 2.1 innings of relief. He struck out one and walked one.
 
In Thursday’s second game, East Limestone got a tie-breaking two-run homer from Payton Jackson in the bottom of the fifth and held on to beat Russellville 8-5.
 
Jeff Lloyd had a big game for the Golden Tigers, finishing 2-for-2 with a double, two walks, two runs and an RBI. Colton Madden reached base all four times he batted, going 1-for-1 with an RBI single and three walks. Parker was 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs, and Buckhalter went 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
 
Fernandez had a pinch-hit RBI single in the top of the seventh to get Russellville within three, but the Golden Tigers left the bases loaded.
 
Parker (5-2) took the loss, allowing four earned runs on four hits in five innings. He struck out four and walked two.
 
Russellville will close out the regular season with a doubleheader next Tuesday at Madison Academy beginning at 4:30 p.m.
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