Home Russell County Laker baseball set to once again contend for 4th Region title

Laker baseball set to once again contend for 4th Region title

Russell County eyes first state tournament appearance since 2009

RCHS Baseball 2022 seniors
Pictured, from left, are the nine seniors for this year's Russell County Lakers baseball team: Maxon Gosser, Evan Hammond, Nick Aaron, Isaac Roy, Cody Luttrell, Camden Carpenter, Alex Reynolds, Landon Walters, and Nathan Lawson.
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There have been 64 winning seasons in Russell County Laker baseball’s 65 years in existence. This year’s Lakers are looking to add to that tradition.

Russell County was ranked No. 23 in the state by a recent Preseason Power 25 in a joint poll by Prep Baseball Report and the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association. If those preseason expectations are any indication, the Lakers are destined for more than just a winning record, and they’ve got their eyes set on the state tournament.

“Obviously, every year, we try to not to look ahead too much, but among our goals is we always try to win the district and try to compete for a regional championship,” head coach David Rexroat said. “Going to state, obviously, that’s always a goal for us.

“But it’s always tough along the way. There are always tough teams out in the 4th Region. So, every year, we just go out and try to compete, and that’s the main thing for us: to compete and go as far as we can.”

The Lakers are coming off a 30-win season and a 5-3 loss to Franklin-Simpson in the 4th Region semifinals.

Russell County loses three seniors from that team to graduation — Noah Hadley, Austin Harris, and CJ Vonfumetti — but returns seven regular starters this season.

Nick Aaron and Isaac Roy were both seniors last season but were able to return because of the so-called “do-over year,” a bill that was passed in Kentucky in 2021 to give students the chance to stay in school an extra year due to COVID-19’s disruption of academics and athletics.

At the plate, Aaron recorded 36 hits and drove in 35 runs with a .333 batting average (AVG), while Roy had 40 hits, 34 RBI, and four home runs with a .357 AVG.

Senior Nathan Lawson, an Eastern Kentucky University signee, was the Lakers’ leader at the plate in several categories last season. He recorded a team-high 50 hits, 53 RBI, 14 doubles, nine home runs and had a .442 AVG (min. 45 at-bats). He also added 36 runs, which was second on the team.

The team leader in runs also returns for the Lakers, with junior Aidan Antle scoring 38 times in 2021. He also added 40 hits, 29 RBI, a home run, and a .348 AVG.

Other returning starters include senior Evan Hammond, who recorded 24 runs, 30 hits, and 28 RBI with a .297 AVG; senior Maxon Gosser, who had 25 runs and hits, 24 RBI, a home run, and a .329 AVG; and sophomore Bryce Cowell, who added 15 runs, 17 hits, 10 RBI in only 46 at-bats, good for a .370 AVG.

Nathan Lawson
Senior Nathan Lawson throws a pitch during Russell County’s scrimmage against Corbin on Monday, March 14.

The Lakers lost one pitcher from last season’s squad and return Lawson and senior Cody Luttrell, who had the top-two most innings pitched last season.

Lawson started 10 games and pitched 64.2 innings. He was 7-1 and recorded 91 strikeouts, compared to only 19 walks. His ERA was 1.95. He also recorded a save.

Luttrell started 11 games and was 9-2 on the year. He struck out 76 batters while walking only 14 and had an ERA of 2.25.

Aaron was the only other pitcher to start more than five games, recording 53 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 47 innings pitched. He was 5-1 (with one save) and had a 2.09 ERA.

Including Hammond and Antle, who had four and three wins, respectively, Russell County returns a pitching staff that accounted for 28 of the team’s 30 wins.

In all, the Lakers boast nine seniors this year, as well as several other players with at least some varsity experience.

Additionally, Rexroat said he is “excited” to see the incoming freshman class, fresh off winning a middle school state championship in 2021.

“This is probably one of the bigger senior crops we’ve had here in a long time,” Rexroat said. “They’ve been successful all the way through their career back to, literally, state runners-up and going to the (Babe Ruth) World Series as 15U in North Dakota, finishing fifth in the nation on that.

“And it’s just a good overall group of kids who work hard. We expect good things out of them, and we’ve put together a pretty tough schedule to push them a little bit.”

Russell County has been to at least the 4th Region semifinals every year since 2017 (excluding the canceled 2020 season) — including a trip to the 4th Region finals in 2018 — but haven’t been able to win the region title since 2009.

Rexroat said this trend has kept the team motivated to continue the success of the past several years while also keeping them hungry to be the team that brings the Lakers back to the state tournament.

“We’ve been in the 4th Region since 2006, and we’ve been in the [region finals] six times,” Rexroat said. “It’s tough enough just to get there, but it’s even harder to win it. Those teams are tough again this year, but this bunch has a good chance to get there. We’ve just got to make sure that we take care of business and, once we get [to the region finals], take the next step to win the region.”

This will be Rexroat’s 20th year at the helm in Russell County, and he has been a coach overall for approximately 30 years.

He pointed to a strong coaching staff and middle school program for helping to build sustained success for Russell County during his time as head coach.

“(Assistant coaches) Chris Taylor, Richard Bennett, and Rob Clark have been with me for a very long time,” Rexroat said. “Our middle school coaches are Josh Popplewell, Ronnie Popplewell and Garret Stephens … The coaches are vital.

“In fact, I couldn’t do it without the good, supportive coaches, and obviously, the parents and boosters. The amount of money they pour into the program to make us successful is enormous and the community, the board of education, and all the people in the community that support us so well.”

For this season’s schedule, visit https://bit.ly/3JmBbsJ.

Rounding out this year’s roster are:

• Senior Camden Carpenter

• Senior Alex Reynolds

• Senior Landon Walters

• Sophomore Riley Hammond

• Sophomore Lincoln Helm

• Sophomore Jackson Huckaby

• Sophomore Nic Popplewell

• Sophomore Trace Stringer

• Sophomore Adam Walters

• Sophomore Austin Bartrug

• Freshman Jake Campbell

• Freshman Mayes Gosser

• Freshman Ben Jones

• Freshman Owen Loy

• Freshman Ayden McGowan

• Freshman Jack Shearer

• Freshman Caleb Smith

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