5. Dominating girls hoops team starts 8-0
Benjamin Russell’s girls basketball team wasn’t even challenged in the first few weeks of the 2018-19 season, and it was rewarded with an eight-game win streak to begin the year.
The Wildcats were so dominating the closest a team was able to get to them in those first eight games was 12 points, and that came in a Christmas tournament against Calera.
For the first seven games, Benjamin Russell outscored its opponents by a breathtaking combined score of 389-131. Talladega put up 35 points against the Wildcats in the season opener then no one scored more than 23 points against them until Calera did so just before the new year.
It was the defense that really set Benjamin Russell apart from its opponents. It held five of those eight opponents to 20 points or fewer. Aaliyah Thomas and Jaaliyah Caldwell were the difference makers for the Wildcats this season, and both of them have graduated so BRHS will have some big shoes to fill if it hopes to keep up such a dominating path.
4. Wildcats storm back to defeat Clay Central
Benjamin Russell quite literally rained on coach Danny Horn’s homecoming parade.
A Clay Central touchdown just 34 seconds into the second half, putting the Volunteers up by 17 points, seemed to light a fire under the Wildcats. From there, it was all Benjamin Russell, all the time.
Defensively, the Wildcats came up with big play after big play. They established success in the passing game, which forced Clay Central into wider coverage and allowed for BRHS’ run game to open up. And the Wildcats even made some noise on special teams. All of that turned into a 28-23 victory against their former coach.
“I still love (Benjamin Russell),” Horn said after the game. “I love the kids and I love the coaching staff. If I was going to lose, it would probably be to them than anyone else.”
The victory was made even sweeter in retrospect when Clay Central went on to win the Class 5A state championship.
3. Spradley brings home gold medal
Throughout his entire high school wrestling career, Benjamin Russell’s Ryan Spradley had fallen short of the ultimate goal. For the past two years, Spradley climbed the podium at the AHSAA Class 6A Wrestling Championships, but he climbed it only a few steps.
This year, though, Spradley finally took that final leap. He defeated Pinson Valley’s Tracy Reed, 11-8, to become the 6A 160-pound state champion.
“It’s surreal,” Spradley said just a few minutes after his winning bout. “I still have chills right now. But later on, it’ll sink in and I’m going to enjoy it.”
Spradley accomplished a lot of feats in his final season as a Wildcat, including surpassing the 50th win mark for a single season. But climbing to the top of that podium once and for all was easily the highlight of the year for Benjamin Russell.
“It’s well deserving,” BRHS coach Michael Ransaw said. “He’s been on the podium in the fifth spot two years in a row. He did the work this year. He had some heartbreaks and some losses, but he came back this year. He came focused. He had a game plan and he went out there and executed. Ryan beat some very good people to put him in a position where he was.”
Spradley was part of a Wildcat squad that placed third as a team.
2. Upset carries boys soccer into quarterfinals
Making it to the AHSAA Class 6A boys soccer quarterfinals was extremely sweet, but how Benjamin Russell did it made it even sweeter.
The Wildcats came out swinging against Stanhope Elmore, which had shut them down twice during the regular season. But when it mattered most in the Class 6A second-round game, it was Benjamin Russell that got the 3-2 victory.
“This feels amazing,” BRHS defender Dylan Riley said after the win. “The whole team knew they were going to be overcome and think, ‘They suck. We beat them, 2-0 and 3-0.’ It feels amazing to just come out here and whoop ’em.”
Luke Harvey was the offensive hero, as he put up all three goals in the win including a pair of back-to-back goals in the first eight minutes of play to set the tone for the rest of the game.
“They beat us twice in the season so we knew we had to come out with high intensity,” Harvey said. “We knew we had to go up early and put them away early, and I feel like we came out strong, got the two early goals and that really set the intensity. They had some chances, almost came back and got us, but ultimately we were able to work hard and put them away.”
1. Baseball team advances to first quarterfinals since 2004
Every part of Benjamin Russell’s spring season was sweet. Soccer advanced to the quarterfinals of state, golf made the state tournament, softball won its second straight area championships and the track team sent a record number to the state meet.
But it was hard to beat the run of Benjamin Russell’s baseball team which stormed back after losing Game 1 in its opening series against Wetumpka and earned a second-round sweep of a tough Northview squad to advance to the program’s first state quarterfinal in 15 years.
Against the Indians, BRHS had a huge walk-off victory in Game 2 then earned an 8-4 win behind Ryan Slaten to earn the first series victory.
“We asked our kids to come play their best baseball,” Benjamin Russell coach Richy Brooks said after the win. “We didn’t play perfect baseball but we came out here and got after it. We’re happy to be moving on.”
Benjamin Russell had convincing wins against Northview in the second round. Although both scores were close — 2-0 and 7-5 — the Wildcats played solid baseball to earn the sweep.
BRHS looked like it might pull off another miracle against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the quarterfinals. After being 10-run ruled in Game 1, Benjamin Russell’s Joe Young hit a walk-off single to earn the win in Game 2 but that’s when the Wildcats’ thrilling run came to an end.