Judging from the brackets, it’s Elizabethton baseball. The Cyclones are on a roll and in a favorable bracket. However, at this time of year it comes down to doing the little things right, and — especially in baseball with the pitch-count rule — teams have to adapt and adjust to difficult situations.
It’s all part of the TSSAA’s five-sport state championship chase in the 25th annual Spring Fling, which takes place Tuesday through Friday in Murfreesboro. Titles are up for grabs in baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and track.
Team tennis is Tuesday and Wednesday at the Adams Tennis Complex, followed by individual singles and doubles on Thursday and Friday. In track and field at Middle Tennessee State University’s track, Class Small is Wednesday and Class Large is Thursday.
Here’s a preview of Tuesday’s first-round games for area teams in baseball, softball and soccer, along with predicted chances of reaching the title game.
Science Hill (35-7) vs. Collierville (35-7)
The good news is the Hilltoppers are in the hunt.
The bad news is dominant ace pitcher Brandon Feathers can’t pitch until at least Thursday, meaning Science Hill will have to win at least two games to get him to the mound. Feathers threw 107 pitches in Saturday’s sectional win over Knox Karns, and the last two tosses put him the TSSAA’s mandatory four-day rest period.
“We could not risk taking him out,” said Science Hill head coach Ryan Edwards, whose team won 4-0. “I’ve coached a long time and faced a lot of situations of not being able to get the final out. We’ve got to trust the whole pitching staff if we’re going to win the state.”
Science Hill’s staff has given up just 11 runs in seven postseason games. The Hilltoppers have four shutouts in that stretch.
Garrett Wilkins, who hurled a 12-strikeout, three-hit shutout against Seymour in the Region 1-AAA finals, will likely get the starting nod against Collierville — which likely counters with Tyler Sherman, who is coming off shutouts of Houston and Bartlett.
Hilltoppers’ predicted chance of reaching title game: 40 percent
Elizabethton (26-8) vs. Stewart County (24-6)
Cyclones’ head coach Ryan Presnell said his team has worked hard to build its identity.
“One of our biggest challenges will be to maintain that identity through adversity,” said Presnell. “It we do that, the outcome will take care of itself and we can rest assured we did the right things.”
The Rebels had to battle their way through the region and sectional, using five different pitchers to win two of three games by a combined score of 12-9.
Logan Beecham figures to get the ball in a starting role for Stewart. He will likely be opposed by Elizabethton’s Tre Shoun, but Evan Carter could be in the mix as well.
Leadoff hitter Thorne Gray and Beecham in the three hole are among the biggest threats in the lineup.
“Stewart County is a very tough ball club that is very talented and driven,” said Presnell. “I’m excited to see how we measure up against a team of their caliber.”
Cyclones’ predicted chance of reaching title game: 70 percent
University High (23-11) vs. Loretto (31-2)
When facing one of the nation’s best high school pitchers, it’s a good thing to know he has solid command.
Left-hander Ryan Weathers has outstanding control, having thrown a stunning 114 strikes in his last 142 pitches. The Vanderbilt signee and likely first-round major-league draft pick has struck out a staggering 27 batters in his last 12 innings.
“The kids are excited to dig in against him,” said UH head coach Josh Petty. “We know he is a controlled pitcher who lives around the zone. The kids know to look fastball only because any other approach will see the ball by you in a hurry. We know he is a special player who has (major-league) first-round talent.”
Weathers is also Loretto’s leadoff hitter.
UH can’t turn to Jack Bembry because of pitch-count rest, so the start will likely go to Cas Blevins.
“Our approach is trying to win a 1-0 or 2-1 ballgame,” said Petty. “It is going to be fun.”
Buccaneers’ predicted chance of reaching title game: 5 percent
Unaka (28-12) vs. Gibson County (24-10)
The Lady Rangers have seen some hard times at the state, but this year’s first-round matchup looks like a better chance for success as this is the first-ever appearance for the Lady Pioneers.
It’s a far cry from Unaka’s ridiculously uneven opener last year against private school powerhouse Goodpasture Christian, which has been placed in Division II and did not make it to the state tournament this year.
Unaka will try to get on the scoreboard this time. The Lady Rangers have been outscored 32-0 in their last three state contests, and have been shutout seven times in their last 10 games in The Boro.
Predicted chance of reaching title game: 10 percent
Dobyns-Bennett (19-0-2) vs. Blackman (13-0-1)
If you look at Blackman’s record, it’s impressive. But the Blaze only played three teams with a winning record this season.
Still, Indians’ head coach Blake Rutherford isn’t taking the Murfreesboro team for granted.
“Blackman is a good team,” said Rutherford. “They run different formations than we are accustomed to playing. We’ve got to exploit our speed and pace and try to get behind their defense. We’ve also got to be disciplined, defensively and with the game management.”
Blackman has just two shutouts this season while the Indians have racked up 15. D-B has outscored its opponents 21-2 in the postseason.
The road is well paved for the Indians to reach the finals. However, a potential semifinal matchup against four-time state champion Brentwood could be tough.
Indians’ predicted chance of reaching title game: 65 percent