The first-round draw was never going to be easy for Stanhope Elmore and it showed during Saturday’s doubleheader. The Mustangs got swept by No. 1 Russell County, falling in Game 1, 9-0, before dropping Game 2, 18-3.
“They are who we thought they were,” Stanhope Elmore coach Wes Dunsieth said. “We knew going in what we were going to get and that’s exactly what we got. We didn’t play our best but there was still a lot to learn there.”
Stanhope Elmore (9-24) entered the series looking to gain experience for the future while attempting to pull off the upset. The Mustangs turned to eighth-grader Collin Woodham to start Game 1, his second start of the season at the varsity level.
“We wanted Collin to go first,” Dunsieth said. “He pitched really well against a good team last Monday and I told him if we could get some innings from him, we would be in good shape.”
Woodham got off to a rocky start, allowing an RBI single to the fourth batter he faced, but he settled in for the bottom half of Russell County’s lineup. He struck out two in the first inning to strand two runners and pitched a scoreless second to keep Stanhope’s deficit at one run.
Russell County blew the game open in the third inning, scoring four runs with one out. Woodham was pulled after 2 2/3 innings, allowing six runs while striking out three in his longest outing of the season.
In Game 2, Stanhope turned to its ace on the mound but some quick errors doomed the Mustangs early. After striking out the first batter of the game, Trey Dunn allowed seven consecutive Warriors to reach base as the Mustangs stared down a 5-0 deficit before getting to the plate.
Russell County added eight runs with two outs, all unearned, to take a 13-0 lead in the first inning. Dunn had his shortest outing of the season, allowing 11 runs on nine hits before being pulled with two outs in the first inning.
“He just couldn’t execute the pitches the way he wanted to and they hit it,” Dunsieth said. “When you do that to a good team like Russell County, they’re going to hit it. It was the guy we wanted there but it just didn’t work out.”
Despite the two losses, the Mustangs got a lot out of the trip to face the top-ranked team in Class 6A. Stanhope had 14 different players record a plate appearance during the series and seven players got to pitch.
“Obviously having Collin start game one gave him that experience now,” Dunsieth said. “Zach Stevens, another young guy, got some experience and got a hit off of one of their better pitchers. We took a lot of guys down there just to experience the atmosphere too.”
Stanhope lost 10 of its final 11 games of the season but made the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The Mustangs dealt with several key players missing time throughout the season but Dunsieth said there still needed to be more success on the field.
“We obviously want to win more games,” Dunsieth said. “Nobody sets out to have a losing record but having the issues we did with injuries and still battling, I think that speaks well to our underclassmen and the depth of the program.”
Nate Hodge was the team’s leading hitter in his final high school season. He was the only Mustang to bat over .300 in more than 30 at bats while leading the team with two homers and 15 RBIs.
Alex Johnson was 18-for-18 on stolen base attempts and led the Mustangs with 23 runs scored. Hodge and Johnson are a part of a nine-person senior class for Stanhope Elmore.
“Overall, I think we became better people because of the struggles we had,” Dunsieth said. “That’s a big part of high school baseball. Not just wins and losses but building each other up.”