RUSSELLVILLE — With a little help from Mother Nature, and creative interpretation of AHSAA rules, Russellville High insured itself of at least one more day of baseball.

After a rain delay that lasted over an hour, Cullman proceeded to beat the Golden Tigers 12-1 in the opening game of the Class 5A north semifinal. But just before game two was supposed to start, things got interesting.

Instead of following the plan that had been decided upon after the rain delay and playing game two of the best-of-three series at 9:30 p.m., Russellville coach David Ward decided to postpone play until today at 1 p.m.

Because the field was in perfect playing condition and so many Bearcat fans had paid to watch a doubleheader, Cullman coach Bryan Bowen didn’t want to suspend play until the next day. But Russellville’s administration wasn’t buying it.

After a 30-minute, heated discussion with Russellville administration by Bowen that was backed by Cullman football coach Mark Britton, boys’ basketball coach Mike Dean, principal Lane Hill and athletic director Jay Page, Cullman’s fans – who had been standing in the empty ballpark watching in disbelief – were asked to leave and told their $9 ticket stubs would be reimbursed for the first game.

But if the series goes to a game three this afternoon, Russellville’s administration said everyone would have to leave the park and pay an additional six dollars for admission.

“According to state rules, we were supposed to play two games today,” Bowen said. “The field’s fine, so we should’ve played the second game. What’s bad about it is that all our fans drove all the way out here and paid to see two games. Something like this really puts a damper on a good win.”

Even though Cullman didn’t win the debate about when the series would be continued, the Bearcats did come away victorious on the baseball diamond. Behind a solid start from Cullman pitcher Matt Drake, the Bearcats held the No. 2-ranked Golden Tigers to only one run and four hits in six innings.

Senior Josh Rutledge gave Drake some breathing room early in the first inning. After both John Nyquist and Chris Cain opened the game with a pair of walks, the senior connected with pitch over the plate and drove it over the left-field fence.

“Josh got a fastball over the plate, and he got a hold of it,” said Bowen, who was still frustrated about the postponement. “That kind of set the tone early.”

The Bearcats got things going again in the top of the second inning when Austin Golden led off with a walk. After Russellville pitcher Preston Beasley through two consecutive wild pitches, Golden advanced to third. Beasley followed by hitting Patrick Britton with a pitch, and then threw another passed ball that allowed Golden to score from third.

Control problems were an issue for Beasley — the Golden Tigers No. 1 starter — all night. He walked nine batters and had seven passed balls in the loss.

While Beasley was struggling with his control, Drake wasn’t. Despite getting into a couple of jams, the Cullman junior was able to pitch his way out of them.

The only time Russellville threatened to have a big inning was in the bottom of the fourth. After the Golden Tigers loaded the bases with two outs, Drake fell behind in the count to Patrick Hines. But after Bowen had an intense meeting with his pitcher and infielders, Drake came back and recorded the strikeout to end the inning.

After giving up runs in the first and second innings, Beasley settled down and held the Bearcats scoreless until the fifth inning. But that’s when things started to fall apart.

With two outs and the bases loaded, Josh Rutledge belted a line drive into centerfield to score two runs. Two batters later, Andy Underwood belted a three-RBI double to extend the lead to 10-0.

Even though his team dropped the first game, Ward still believes his Golden Tigers can advance to the finals.

“They’ve (Cullman) got great pitching, but it wasn’t dominating stuff,” Ward said. “We just got behind in the count, and they were ready for us. We came out kind of flat, which is unusual for us. We’ve just got to regroup and get ready for the next game.”

Cullman will travel to Russellville today for game two of the best-of-three series. The first game is set for 1 p.m., with game three – if necessary – immediately after.

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