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Relaxed, focused

Straughn baseball coach John Fussell said his team needs to play “relaxed” and “focused” baseball against Dale County Friday night in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.

The Tigers won the area title last Friday night against Luverne, winning 4-3 in 10 innings on a solo home run by Straughn’s Cody Hughes.

That win gave the Tigers the right to host the first round of the playoffs.

Straughn hosted Dale County in its tournament last month, but never got the chance to play against them.

“They are very, very scrappy,” Fussell said about Dale County on Monday. “Drew Danner is their coach and he is an excellent coach. They are very well-coached and very aggressive on the bases.

“They put the ball in play and they make the routine plays,” he said.

The Tigers improved to 27-6 on the season with the area win over Luverne last week.

Fussell said his strategy for the game Friday night is to keep doing what they’ve always done.

“We’re just going to keep playing like we have been,” he said. “We are going to work on some extra things this week defensively and also offensively that we haven’t worked on.”

This is the second trip for Straughn to the first round of the state playoffs in two seasons. Last year, the Tigers were knocked out by the Headland Rams 6-4 and 7-3.

Fussell said he watched Dale County play Headland last week and said they had a chance to win the area.

“They were real close to winning the area,” he said. “Headland hit a three-run homer in first game and Dale County beat them in the second game to win runner-up.

“We need to play relaxed and focused and we need to hit the ball on the ground,” he said. “We’ve got to not be popping up and we need to make the routine plays.”

For the better part of this season, Straughn has relied on its faith to get through challenges that have come about.

Fussell said his players are trying to be representatives of not only the high school, but more importantly to God.

“I can tell you that no matter what happens, and if we get put out the first round or we may go to Montgomery — the things that those players said (after the area title game) means more to me than any game we’ve played or ever played in,” he said. “I think they’re trying to represent God in a way that’s pleasing to Him. At the same time, they also have faith in each other as a team.”

Admission to the first round of the playoffs at Straughn is $8 per person and both teams will play the best-out-of-three games.

The first game is at 5 p.m. Friday.

Fussell added that he would like to see a big crowd to support the team.

“When our students came to that game last Friday, they have no idea what part they played in how our players had played,” Fussell said. “It really fires them up and inspires them.”