BY MATTHEW SPARKS
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS There was plenty of maroon on the diamond at the Frank Bloom Invitational on Saturday.
But there was no sign of rust from Landon Brewer. The Russell senior got the start against 20-game winner Pikeville and left the Panthers’ hitters seeing red for much of the afternoon in the Red Devils’ 6-2 victory.
Brewer hadn’t seen the mound in more than two weeks and was making his fourth appearance of the season.
“It felt good,” Brewer said. “Everything was going well for me today, which is unusual sometimes. But it felt really good.”
Brewer gave up four hits in five solid innings to record the win. He walked two and collected six strikeouts. He said his breaking ball allowed him to stay ahead in the count.
“He has thrown pretty well all year,” Russell coach Tim Rice said. “He has struggled with some command, but today he was on. He was finding that breaking ball for strikes. He worked deep into some counts. Pikeville is a good-hitting ball club. They make pitchers work. He got his pitch count up, but he battled through it and had the one bad inning. Other than that, he was on today.”
Russell gave Brewer an early cushion with three runs in the first frame. Chaz Whitt lined a single to plate Kenneth Gomez. Casey Hensley followed with a triple over the right fielder’s head to send two more home.
“We are just a hitting team right now,” Brewer said. “We are on our game right now. There isn’t any pitcher that we can’t hit right now. Scoring six runs on that team is pretty good.”
Hensley was 2 for 3 at the dish and was a major contributor in both scoring innings for the Red Devils. Both hits went for extra bases.
“He has been swinging it pretty well lately,” Rice said. “... I like our lineup up and down. One through 9 can swing the bat. We can hit extrabase hits and we run gaps. We can get out and run because we are pretty physical.”
Hensley led off the sixth inning with a double. Austin Brinkman reached on a bunt single before Russell capitalized on back-to-back Panthers’ errors. Pikeville misplayed a grounder allowing Hensley to score. Seth Atkins laid a bunt down the third-base line but the throw went wide as the second baseman was slow to cover first base.
Pikeville coach Stephen Priode said he didn’t see the same team on Saturday that won its first 19 ball games. It’s dropped two of its last three.
“We go from a very high to a very low all of a sudden,” Priode said. “You get complacent when that happens. There are good things in baseball and bad things in baseball. Hopefully, we take a bad and turn it into a good. We were in a 19game win streak to begin the season and we take a loss in our area 2 miles from us. I am hoping this (loss) will spark us. You can’t come out flat against good teams.”
Pikeville (20-2) defeated West Carter, 4-1, in the sectional round of the All “A” State Tournament the night before on its home field. It was quick turnaround for the Panthers.
“It is real tough,” Priode said. “And I understand stuff like that. I can’t understand the mental part and the effort. Even though you’re tired and dragging, you still have to come out and play every day.”
Pikeville plated two runs in the second inning with an RBI single by Tyler Elkins and a fielder’s choice. Brewer retired nine of the final 13 batters he faced. Justin Manning closed out the final two innings to pick up the save.
“That is a quality opponent over there in Pikeville,” Rice said. “I wish they came in here undefeated. I told that to the guys before the game. I wish we were the first team to put that ‘L’ on them. To put No. 2 on them is big. It’s great to build confidence for our guys going into this big week.”
Russell, now 19-8, and Greenup County meet in two pivotal district contests on Monday and Tuesday. The Red Devils host the first matchup with the second meeting in Lloyd. Both teams stand at 4-0 in district seeding play.
Brewer hopes the big win over Pikeville will add a little extra momentum for Russell in the two-game series.
“It means a lot,” Brewer said. “We are ready for Greenup County. We will definitely come out hyped up for those games.”
PIKEVILLE 020 000 0—252 RUSSELL 300 003 x—65 1 Justice, Harris (4) and Slone; Brewer, Manning (6) and Brinkman. W—Brewer. L—Justice. SV—Manning. 2B—Brown (P), Byers (P), McDonald (P), Hensley (R). 3B—Hensley (R).
“I told that to the guys before the game. I wish we were the first team to put that ‘L’ on them. To put No. 2 on them is big.”
Tim Rice, Russell baseball coach