A week after learning it lost five players who were ruled ineligible after transferring, Baseball America's preseason No. 1 team lost in its third game of the season.
Five players--senior third baseman Adam Coe, junior righthander Danny Danielson, junior outfielder Courtney Jefferson, sophomore catcher Bryce Lane and senior righthander David Williamson--all of whom transferred to Russell County last fall, were ruled ineligible for various infractions stemming from their transfer. All five could be cleared to play again, pending approval by the Alabama High School Athletics Association.
The Warriors, who finished last season ranked No. 1 in the BA/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll and started 2006 in the same position, fell 7-6 to No. 28 Mosley High (Lynn Haven, Fla.) Saturday in a matchup that drew several hundred fans and approximately 20 professional scouts.
The loss was the first regular-season defeat for Russell County since April 2004, but might not be the last this year for the Warriors, who lost at least two potential starters, including the team's best hitter in Coe, who played last season at Columbus (Ga.) High. Danielson was penciled into Russell County's pitching staff as the No. 3 starter.
Russell County superintendent Dr. Becky Lee ruled the students ineligible, levying the decision less than a week before Russell County's regular-season opener.
"No one has been suspended; we have some issues of eligibility and we didn't want to put the program at risk," said Lee, who went on to say one of the students has been cleared to play, but did not specify which one. "We should have it cleared up one way or the other in the next week or so. We feel like they are probably going to be eligible."
Alan Mitchell, the AHSAA assistant director, said that the school was placed on one-year probation and fined $300 in January for holding at least one organized practice prior to the state's official practice date of Jan. 30. The school's probation precipitated Lee's decision to rule ineligible the players in question, ensuring they did not participate in games before the AHSHAA cleared them.
"I know they are being investigated or being checked on," Mitchell said. "They hadn't played (in a game), so they haven't broken any of our rules.
"(The probation) is a warning that violations of that type could bring them more serious sanctions."
The untimely news served as an inauspicious backdrop to what was one of the most anticipated high school matchups of the season. Russell County senior lefthander Kasey Kiker, a second-team preseason All-American, got the start against Mosley (4-1) and pitched well, despite surrendering three runs in Mosley's win. He touched 97 mph and sat between 93-94 mph on a cool, cloudy day in Florida's Panhandle.
Mosley senior slugger Cody Johnson, a first-team All-American outfielder, hit a two-run home run off a Russell County (2-1) reliever in the fifth inning.
"We're picking apart a guy (Kiker) who is an excellent pitcher, but sometimes he has a tendency to pitch too much and that's what he did a little bit against Mosley High School," said a scout with an American League organization. "His fastball now is plus, his changeup in the past has been strong-average to plus . . . and he has a tendency to guide the ball . . . but they lost because of errors, not because he didn't hold up his end of the bargain."Russell County hoped to rebound Monday when it began a two-day, three-game series in Tallassee, Ala., but its perch atop the poll this season could be short-lived. BA's first in-season poll is scheduled to be released March 6.