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Russell/Victoria moves on to state semis





PRATT -- Russell/Victoria High School baseball player Taylor Rome is a mastermind when it comes to getting himself into jams. The junior pitcher's tendency to get over excited and behind in the count is well noted among the coaching staff, but so is his ability to always make the best of the situation.

"He kind of gets you a little bit nervous," Russell coach Zach Shipley said. "I was telling the guys, do not get nervous about it. Because it seems like every time he falls behind 2-0 he finds his way back and gets a punch out, gets a pop out.

"If you fall behind 2-0, most kids crumble. And he gets after it."

Rome's reputation didn't suffer any on Thursday in the Broncos' Class 4A Division II state quarterfinal game against third-seeded Wichita Trinity Academy at Pratt Community College. Despite numerous rough spots and early holes, Rome pitched all seven innings and struck out 10 batters in Russell's 11-2 rout of the Knights.

Russell (15-8), the sixth seed playing in its first state tournament since 2008, advanced to today's 1:30 p.m. semifinal game against Kansas City-Bishop Ward (13-10). Bishop Ward, the tournament's No. 7 seed, upset second-seeded Burlington High School 12-2 in Thursday's quarterfinals.

The winner of Russell and Bishop Ward will face the winner of Perry-Lecompton (20-3 and the No. 1 seed) and Baxter Springs (19-4 and the No. 4 seed) in today's 6:30 p.m. state title game. The losers will meet in the third-place game at 4 p.m.

"Seeding to us is absolutely nothing. It's just who we are going to play," Rome said. "We came in and watched the two seed play today, and they got beat pretty hard. We are a six and come out and beat a three. So it's pretty exciting."

Russell and Trinity (18-5) played in the day's final game, and it didn't take long to establish which team was going to have the better time of it. Russell, the designated road team, needed only a single by sophomore Brady Dinkel and throwing errors by the Knights after junior Logan Braun also singled for Dinkel to score before the game's first out.

Errors were aplenty early on for Trinity, which trailed 5-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning.

"It's real nice going out and pitching a game when your offense keeps putting up runs. You don't have to worry about it," Rome said. "It gives me some insurance. We get a couple early then I just keep gaining momentum throughout the rest of the game."

Rome gave up his first run in the third inning, a sacrifice fly to left field by Trinity's Jacob Loon, allowing Nathan Flesher to tag at third and barely beat out a throw to home plate. Rome had walked Flesher to open the inning and had immediately advanced to third after a wild throw from one of the infielders.

The Russell offense answered with three more runs in the fourth inning, two runs scoring on a single to right field from Braun. Braun would score three batters later on a sac-fly by senior Brandon Bachar.

Rome opened the bottom of the fourth by allowing a single and walking the second batter to put two on with no outs. His response was to strike out the next two batters before a fielding error against the inning's fifth batter resulted in a bases loaded, two outs situation.

A perfect time for Rome to get his third strikeout of the inning and walk away unscathed.

"He just gets frustrated with himself when he falls behind. Then he speeds up his mechanics," Shipley said. "Once he takes a breath and works down he is fine. He just gets himself out of whack sometimes and needs to take a deep breath and get after it."

Trinity got its second run in the bottom of the fifth inning on a sac-fly by Mitchell List, scoring leadoff man Clay Burke. Russell extended its lead to the final score of 11-2 after a three-run sixth inning.

The rest was up to Rome. He opened the bottom of the sixth inning by walking the first batter, but after a quick chat with Shipley, was able to strike the next three batters out.

Rome went walk, strike out, walk, strike out, strike out in the seventh inning to finish the game.

"We are pretty excited now. We came out and everybody got focused today," Rome said. "We knew we were going to be the better team out here. We came out and we played like it. We got in some rough situations there but we kept our heads high and kept going."