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2005 High School Team Of The Year
By Alan Matthews
Tony Rasmus and his boys have a knack for making their way to the top.
Six years ago Tony was an assistant coach on the Phenix City, Ala., Little League team that featured his oldest sons Colby and Cory. The team won the United States bracket, advancing all the way to Williamsport, Pa. Two years later they were victorious in the Dixie League national competition, and finally they've followed suit in high school.
Russell County High of Seale, Ala., finished the season with a 38-1 record and ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll.
The Warriors, who were ranked No. 4 in the preseason, took over the top spot April 3 and never relinquished it. They beat Pinson (Ala.) Valley High 5-1 and 7-0 to sweep their best-of-three championship series to claim the Alabama Class 5-A title at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery.
Cory Rasmus, a junior righthander, tossed a complete-game shutout with three walks, three hits and 10 strikeouts in the decisive game. Colby, a senior outfielder, went 3-for-7 with four RBIs in the series and hit his 24th home run, the second-highest single-season total in Alabama history. He was named the playoffs MVP.
“Everything just seemed to fall in line and go as good as it could have,” Tony said. "How much good fortune can one family have? I had to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming all of it."
While Colby posted eye-popping .484-24-66 numbers and played his way into the first round of the draft, going to the Cardinals with the 28th overall pick, it was the Warriors’ dominant pitching staff that keyed Russell County's national title run.
Junior lefthander Kasey Kiker went 12-1, 0.52 with 173 strikeouts, 24 walks and 41 hits in 94 innings to lead a staff that owned a 0.75 ERA and racked up 429 strikeouts, both state records. Cory, who will join Kiker in the AFLAC All-American game later this summer, was 11-0, 0.50 with two saves in 70 innings, and Colby was 3-0, 0.00 with 3 saves, 30 strikeouts and four walks in 17 innings.
"I remember walking out of there the first time I saw them saying, 'That right there is a good high school baseball team,' " said Cardinals scout Scott Nichols, the 21-year scouting veteran who signed Colby. "They run two dominant pitchers at you and then they have Colby to come in behind them to throw if they need him. It was very impressive, just a special group of people with Tony and the whole family. They deserve everything they can get out of his."
There was no better example of Russell County's superiority this season than its second-round sweep of Monroe County High of Monroeville. Kiker used his fastball, which touched 94 mph this season, changeup and sharp breaking ball beautifully during a perfect game with 12 strikeouts over seven innings in the opener. Colby belted four home runs in the doubleheader, including a grand slam, and knocked in 12 runs as the Warriors picked up momentum on their way to Montgomery.
"Those games were incredible displays of dominance," Nichols said. "Colby's last home run was a monstrous bomb. And Cory pitches the second game and dominates--he was 92, 93 with power stuff."
In the next round, however, it appeared Russell County's run might be derailed. The Warriors' semifinals series with Millbrook's Stanhope Elmore was figured by many to be the battle between the state's best teams. Programs from the southern division of the Class 5-A ranks have traditionally produced more talented teams than those from the north. It lived up to expectations, as Stanhope Elmore proved to be Russell County's toughest test, beating Kiker 5-0 in the opener of the best-of-3 series.
"I had a hissy fit and told them to leave the dugout," Tony said. "I thought it was over because (Kiker) is our No. 1 guy, and as well as Cory was throwing, when you go that long without losing a game, you wonder how the kids are going to bounce back.
"They walked back in the dugout and they were real loose, and they just said 'Relax, we've got it.' "
Cory was as cool as his teammates, striking out 15 in a complete-game two-hitter as Russell County evened the series at one game apiece in the second game of the doubleheader.
That night, Tony told Colby, who had not pitched in two weeks and not thrown more than three innings in a game all season, that he would get the ball in the rubber match the following night.
"I thought about it all night. We didn't play until seven (o'clock) and the whole day I sat around the house and thought about what I was going to do. I hoped I could get five good innings."
How about seven shutout, three-hit innings with 10 strikeouts? That's what Colby turned in as he tacked on a home run in a 2-0 victory that paved Russell County's way to the state and national titles.
"Before that game, I'm scared to death again," Tony said. "And that son-of-a-gun came out and threw another great game. He was 91-92 in the seventh with a nasty curveball. He was just phenomenal."
Colby was the Warriors' leader all season. His pitching performance in the state semifinals was a fitting topper on a brilliant career, and showed the moxie that convinced the Cardinals to take him in the first round. Senior outfielder Kuyaunnis Miles was also drafted, going in the 38th round to the Reds.
But with Cory and Kiker returning, as well as junior shortstop Daniel Esparza, who has touched 88 mph off the mound, and the next generation of Rasmus sons--freshmen Case and Cyle--Russell County figures to be in next year's state and national title pictures as well.
The celebration after polishing off Pinson Valley featured the traditional Gatorade showers and dog piles, but for Tony and Colby, the emotions of the day branched beyond the celebration of winning yet another championship.
After the game the family made a beeline for Russell County 90 miles away, as Colby's graduation was scheduled for that evening. While the air was thick with revelry, Tony and his oldest son were more pensive as they reflected on their days together, not only as player and coach, but also as father and son.
"I had goals set and I got them, but not really did I expect to achieve them like this," Colby said. "Everything was running though my mind. All the great times were popping into my head and I was thinking about what it will be like to keep going and make it to the major leagues. It's been a great ride."
“I’m not a real crying kind of fella, but it was pretty tough when you think about the fact you’ve coached your son from the time he was in T-ball to the time he graduates and then you look at him and realize it’s the last time your going to coach him,” Tony said. “He graduated and he hugged my neck and that son-a-gun cried for five minutes. My wife melted into the floor.”