BY ZACK KLEMME
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL Tim Rice asks the Russell Red Devils to strive to be perfect “from arm-length to armlength” — spreading his arms to form a wingspan, he explained, meaning to control what they can control and handle everything within their reach.
Perfection eluded Justin Manning in the first inning Monday against Raceland. But, backed by an offensive explosion from the Red Devils, Russell’s junior pitcher was, at least, really good the rest of the way.
The Rams tattooed Manning for three runs on four hits in the top of the first inning. Russell responded with six runs in the home half of the first and five more in the second, and Manning limited Raceland to one run in the final four innings in a 14-4 five-inning Red Devils victory.
Raceland’s first four batters collected base hits, led by Hunter Lacks, who slammed the first pitch of the game off a light pole beyond the right-field fence. Seth Mills and Brayden Kelly added RBIs.
But as Manning and the Red Devils settled in, the Rams had only three more hits after those first four.
“His mentality is great. He’s a bulldog for us,” Rice said of Manning. “He’s not one of those guys that is gonna wow anybody, doesn’t have the big arm, doesn’t have a lights-out breaking ball, but he just pitches and he gets people out, and he’s a competitor. He’s the guy that we’re gonna rely on in those situations.”
Russell, meanwhile, gave Manning all the offense he needed in the bottom of the first. Casey Hensley hit an RBI double, Ronan Moore scored on a passed ball, and Hensley motored home from third as the ball sat unattended along the third-base line on the same play.
“It really put the game back at 0-0 and let us reset everything,” Rice said.
It didn’t stay there long: Chaz Whitt drove in a run with a single, Cole Cordle plated another on a sacrifice fly and Manning singled for an RBI.
Jacob Funk hit a three-run double to ignite a five-run second inning as Russell pulled away to an 11-3 lead after two. Manning allowed four runs on seven hits. He struck out four hitters, walked two and hit one.
Funk was 2 for 2 with a double, a triple and four RBIs. Moore went 3 for 4, and Grant Bates, Whitt and Manning each had two hits.
Whitt, Cordle and Manning drove in two runs apiece, and eight of Russell’s nine batters had at least one of the Red Devils’ 14 hits.
“We’ve had some weird, upand- down games,” Rice said, “and after Saturday getting beat 19-0 (by Paintsville) and then coming out and giving up a 3-spot in the first (Monday), we could’ve gone two ways, and we chose the right way to go today and came back out and battled back and really competed.”
Russell improved to 10-12 and 2-3 in 63rd District seeding. Of those dozen losses, six have come by two runs or fewer.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are tough. We’re mentally tough,” Manning said. “It’s just us being young, I think. We’ll get it. We’ll get there.
“Our hitting was there today, and hopefully it stays there the rest of the season.”
Hunter Parsons ended Raceland’s reverie with a leadoff triple and scored on an error in the fourth inning, but that was all the Rams got after the first inning.
Raceland (15-4, 2-2 district seeding) is off to its best start in at least 17 years (comprehensive online KHSAA records go back to 2002) and was coming off its first victory in the All “A” Classic state sectional round in school history.
Coach Marty Mills is hopeful the Rams learned something Monday. “That’s still some growing pains,” he said. “Honestly, hopefully it’s kind of a wakeup call to understand that, for this program to go where you want it to go, you gotta come every day, and that’s the biggest thing.
“I know these guys well enough. They’ll respond to that. They play hard.”
Justin Fairchild took the decision for the Rams. He didn’t make it out of the second inning, hampered by five Raceland errors before the Rams got their second out of the second inning.
Raceland hosts Russell this evening. The Red Devils are 23-5 against Raceland since the formation of the current 63rd District in 2006.
RACELAND 300 10 — 4 7 5 RUSSELL 650 3X — 14144 Fairchild, West (2) and Heighton; Manning and Wilburn. W—Manning. L—Fairchild. 2B—Moore (Ru), Hensley (Ru), Funk (Ru), Whitt (Ru). 3B— Parsons (Ra), Funk (Ru). HR—Lacks (Ra).
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