Warriors Find Sequel Sour
Kiker, Rasmus End Prep Careers With Sour Sequel
SEALE, Ala.--As Kasey Kiker walks through the halls of Russell County High, the talented senior lefthander is asked one question over and over again:
Russell County teachers and students who didn't travel to Millbrook for the Warriors' Alabama state playoff series at Stanhope Elmore High are still wondering how the Mustangs swept Baseball America's defending national high school champions and the defending Class 5-A state champions.
What was billed as an exciting sequel season ended in anticlimactic fashion, in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, as Stanhope Elmore swept Russell County 8-7 and 4-2.
"I'm not sure if they're disappointed. That's probably not the best word for it," said coach Tony Rasmus, as he reflected on how his son Cory and Kasey Kiker, the team's top prospects, took the early exit. "I think they're kind of glad they can get ready for the next step."Unceremonious Ending
That sentiment gives you a starting point for the answer about what happened to this team.
A year after going 38-1, Russell County appeared to have replaced the powerful bat of Colby Rasmus, who is the oldest of Tony's four sons and was a first-round pick of the Cardinals last year. Five players transferred into Russell County from other high schools in the area, and with lefthander Kiker and righthander Rasmus maturing as dominant forces on the mound, Russell County began the season as the top team in the BA/National High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll.
They didn't get much time to savor the honor. Five days before the Warriors were scheduled to open their title defense, all five players who transferred to the school were ruled ineligible by the local school system while the state's athletic association investigated the transfers.
The Warriors headed south to Panama City, Fla., for an early-season showdown with another nationally ranked team, Mosley High, undermanned and distracted. They committed six errors behind Kiker in a 7-6 loss, which would be the first of many. Six weeks into the season, Russell County was 18-6 and unranked.
"I knew the national title was gone after three losses," Cory Rasmus said. "When we were out of the running for that, I still wanted to win a state title. Losing still makes me mad."
All five of the transfers were cleared to play by March 1, but the team never came together as expected. There were injuries--David Williamson had shoulder surgery in March and eventually transferred back to Hardaway (Ga.) High without throwing an inning for Russell County--and a rugged schedule. But more apparent was that the team lacked cohesion. It played like a team that had little experience playing together.
Of the 95 runs Russell County allowed this season, 52 were unearned. The Warriors committed six errors in the 8-7 loss to Stanhope Elmore, leading to Kiker's fourth loss of the season. Having a senior lefthander with a fastball that touches 97 mph lose four times is a strong sign of a team that didn't come together.
"We had more talent than the 2005 team," Tony Rasmus said. "(But) we weren't as good as a team. We underachieved."Bitter Sweet
While the Warriors, who finished the season 31-9, fell short in their quest for another championship, Kiker and Rasmus did not hurt their individual draft status. Rasmus went 10-3, 0.57 with 130 strikeouts and 30 walks in 74 innings, and could be drafted as high as the second round.
"I've seen him plenty, and since he was 15 he's always been 90-92," said a scout with a National League organization. "At times this season he's pitched at 93-94 and showing you 95's early in the game. The arm strength is obvious."
Being lefthanded with better secondary stuff makes Kiker even more attractive to professional clubs. He could be a first-rounder after a 7-4, 1.02 performance with 140 strikeouts and 29 walks in 69 innings.
"He's showing a plus big league breaking ball, it's just inconsistent," said an American League scout, who compared Kiker to another undersized lefthander who was a premium pick coming out of high school, Scott Kazmir. "The stuff is a tick below Kazmir, but Kiker can pitch and knows how to control his stuff, so I think you're dealing with real similar animals."
Rasmus, who played on the Phenix City, Ala., team that advanced to the Little League World Series in 1999, and Kiker also have track records of success, this season notwithstanding.
"Another thing about these guys is they know how to elevate their game," another scout with an AL organization said. "Stick a scouting director in front of them and those kids can elevate their games--that's kind of what separates them from a lot of other kids."
As many as 30 scouts turned out to see some of Kiker's and Rasmus' starts. While they might have been accustomed to the pressure, all the attention may have been a distraction to many of their teammates, another factor in Russell County's disappointing season.
"Every game we played was just crazy," Tony Rasmus said. "Between the scouts and the (expectations), it seemed like there was always so much going on. And we didn't answer the bell."Robert Spruck covers high school baseball for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Inquirer.