Russell warms back up ahead of Lamar-Rice

Published 11:25 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2016

To hammer 15 home runs and bat .381 on the season, it wouldn’t seem Reid Russell has dealt with much failure. But that’s exactly how the Lamar junior left fielder says he began another hitting surge.

“You’re not getting a hit every time,” he said. “You just have to stay with your approach. Good things will come if you do that.”

At 31-11 and 16-5 in the Southland Conference, Lamar is entering its toughest stretch since the start of the season. The Cardinals will visit Rice at 6:30 p.m.  Wednesday in Houston before a seven-game home stand that includes key conference series against Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State.

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The Cardinals on Tuesday announced a 6 p.m. Monday game against the University of Houston as the latest addition to that home stand. They’ll need Russell to stay hot to have a chance to pick up wins against high-ranking teams in the Ratings Power Index and move up in the Southland standings.

Russell has batted .458 in his last 48 at-bats, producing 22 hits. In that span, he’s driven in 22 runs, scored 11 of his own, doubled three times, tripled once and homered five times.

He drew national attention during his streak of five games with a home run, which came against Northwestern State, Houston and Central Arkansas in March. Collegiate Baseball Newspaper named him a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

“That was pretty fun,” Russell said. “I don’t want to say once-in-a-lifetime. It was pretty rare. I wasn’t trying to do anything different.”

Russell hit .325 in 40 at-bats (13 hits, three home runs) since the home run streak, and that all came during a 15-game winning streak for the Cardinals.

Again, not much failure, it would seem. But it serves as a testament to his consistency in approach.

“I just came off a three-strikeout game,” Russell said, looking back on Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Incarnate Word that ended a five-game win streak. “You have to learn not to let that go to your head, and at the same time make sure the five-game home run streak doesn’t go to your head.”

Russell is expecting the mid-week pitching to be as tough as in conference play this late in the season. On Wednesday, he’ll go up against Zach Esquivel (0-0, 4.22) as Jayson McKinley (2-1, 3.93) starts for Lamar.

“Especially in conference, every starter is really solid or good,” Russell said. “Especially some of the mid-week games, the pitching is really good. I think that’s really good because that’s what we’re going to see in the conference or regional tournament.”

Yes, the talk of a regional berth for the Cardinals is becoming rampant, although they are left out of College Sports Madness’ latest NCAA tournament projections. With Southeastern Louisiana and SHSU just ahead of Lamar in Southland standings, the Cards may be approaching the latter part of the season like a postseason run before the postseason.

That, of course, includes the mid-week games. Rice is 30th in the latest RPI, compared to Lamar’s 56th. Southeastern Louisiana is two spots ahead of Lamar, with Houston 78th and SHSU 87th.

Lamar can beat its fourth team in the current RPI top 40 with a win Wednesday, following feats over LSU (now 15th), Arizona (32nd) and Southeast Missouri State (38th).

“This Rice game is one of the biggest we’ve had as far as RPI can go,” Russell said. “It can affect our getting an at-large bid. This coming weekend against Southeastern and Sam Houston, those are our two biggest series coming up.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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