BY MIKE URSERY
The Harrisburg Bulldogs (11-12) advanced to the Class 2 District 7 championship game for a second straight year, losing 6-3 against the Russellville Indians (17-13) on May 16 in New Bloomfield.
It was the second straight time the Bulldogs met the Indians in the Class 2 District 7 championship game. The two met last season on the Bulldogs’ home field, before it was dedicated to the memory of Coach Brian T. Simpson. Russellville won 19-10 in eight innings.
“Russellville is a good team, led by a good coach in Lucas Branson,” Harrisburg head coach Chris Ackman said. “They play the game the right way. They are tough outs. I think we struck them out maybe twice.They were relentless every inning against our pitching.”
Russellville wasted no time going ahead. In the bottom of the first inning, after the first two batters reached base, junior Austin Roe hit an RBI-triple to drive both runners in. The Indians led 2-0 after an inning.
Russellville doubled that lead in the bottom of the second. Junior Mason Stewart hit an RBI-single, and Roe followed with his second RBI-triple of the game. The score became 4-0.
The Bulldogs cut the lead in half in the top of the fourth inning. Sophomore Austin Bruns hit a double into the corner in left field that brought in a run. Junior Brayden Hudson added an RBI-single, and the score became 4-2.
Stewart, playing at shortstop, came up with what was probably the defensive play that saved the game for Russellville.
With runners at first and third and two outs in the fourth, sophomore Charles Strain hit a groundball to short. Stewart fielded the grounder in the back of the infield.
Stewart jumped while making a turn towards first and made the throw. The throw took one hop before it was caught by the first baseman. Strain was out at first. Stewart’s play saved a run, and ended Harrisburg’s rally.
“That was at least one run I thought we should have had,” Ackman said about Stewart’s defensive play. “He made a ‘Derek Jeter’ play that I still can’t believe he made.”
Stewart added another RBI-single in the bottom of the fourth inning to make the score 5-2. He swung the momentum back to Russellville with both his glove and his bat over the course of an inning.
Harrisburg began the season 0-5, then went on to win 11 of their final 18 games to finish the season at 11-12. The Bulldogs were outscored 36-9 in those first five wins. They won by an average margin of more than 11 runs in their 11 wins.
“It was a number of things,” Ackman said about his team’s slow start. “The weather sucked from the beginning. We didn’t get a chance to be (consistently) outside working on stuff.”
The baseball Bulldogs also had to get used to a new coach, Ackman said. Ackman took over as the baseball coach this season, after the tragic death of former head coach Brian Simpson, who passed in a fatal vehicle accident last September.
Ackman said that his players were able to come together to overcome and turn the season into a successful one.
“I can’t explain it,” Ackman said. “I’m still in awe of what they were able to do in that situation. These are good character people. They saw an obstacle, but were able to look past it and tried to find the best way as a team to play a game again.”
Ackman said the five seniors on his 2018 roster played a significant leadership role to turn the season around. The five seniors on the roster this season were Cade Combs, Cody Karl, Alex Weideman, Jordan Olmstead and Ethan Sublett.