Steve Spurrier, the team’s most famous player who went on to win a Heisman Trophy as a football player and a national championship as a football coach, got the idea after seeing the Hilltoppers’ 1998 team celebrate the 20th anniversary of their state title.
“A while back, the 1998 state champion baseball team had a reunion and I said, ‘We’ve never had one for the back-to-back ’62 and ’63 bunch of guys,’ ” Spurrier said. “So, I called (Science Hill athletic director) Keith Turner, and got in touch with Tom Hager and Joe Cowell. It’s a chance to reminisce and celebrate back-to-back state champions.”
Spurrier, Hager and Cowell were some who attended along with Jim Edgemon, Larry Davis, Bob McCullough, Tony Bowman and Larry “Choo” Tipton.
In 1962, the Hilltoppers defeated Memphis Messick 1-0 for the state title behind a two-hit shutout by pitcher Lonnie Lowe. Hager drew a walk and after a sacrifice bunt by Bowman, Tipton had another walk and Spurrier came through with a RBI single in left field for the only score.
The following year, the Hilltoppers bounced back from a 12-3 loss to Memphis Christian Brothers in a double-elimination tournament to win 7-5 in the title game.
Tipton had a two-run home run and Hager went 3-for-5 in the lead-off spot. Wayne Oxendine had two hits, including a triple, while David Foster and Spurrier also contributed two hits. With Spurrier on the mound, only one of the five runs were earned. He pointed out Science Hill overcame six errors in the game with their exceptional hitting. They had 13 hits overall in the championship game.
“It was a complete team victory,” said Spurrier, who finished 7-0 on the season. “In Memphis, the second year we won, eight of the nine guys hit .333 or better. We would win games 7-6, 5-4, 4-3, it was amazing. I asked Tommy Hager a little back if he could ever remember us losing a close game and he said, ‘Steve, we never lost a close game.’ That just doesn’t happen, but it did those years we won the championships.”
Jim Edgemon was an outfielder on the state championship teams. He remains a loyal supporter of the program, attending most of Science Hill’s games back in the spring. He saw how talented the 2018 team was and how that team lost in two games at the state tournament. It gives him a greater appreciation of his team’s accomplishments.
“It gives you chills to think about winning back-to-back championships,” he said. “It’s something that’s unheard of. Once you get to the state tournament, teams aren’t sleepers. Memphis Christian Brothers had a great ball club with a bunch of big, strong boys on the team.”
When Hager thinks about his group winning state-to-state championships, he puts things into a historical perspective. The school originally opened as Science Hill Male and Female Institute in 1867, two years before Johnson City was founded.
“Johnson City will be 150 years old next year and Science Hill has won four (state baseball) championships in that time. My group won two of those,” Hager said. “There was always a good team from Memphis every year and that Memphis Christian Brothers team was something. In the summer, they had a team which won the American Legion World Series. To go to Memphis, they made us play in the hottest part of the day. It’s just hard to describe what going there and winning was like.”
REASONS FOR THEIR SUCCESS
Hager credited the unselfishness of the team for its success and gave an example. Although Bowman was a year older, he suggested to Broyles to give Hager his No. 1 jersey and take his place as leadoff batter. The changes obviously worked in the 1-0 win over Memphis Messick.
Tipton was the steady force behind the plate at catcher. He started playing ball with brothers Lonnie and George Lowe in the Keystone community, and talked about the confidence which both state championship teams had.
“This was a unique bunch,” Tipton said. “Both years, we felt like we couldn’t get beat. We didn’t lose too many games. We lost two games our junior year, but we walked right through the tournament. We lost the one game my senior year to Christian Brothers at the state tournament, but we felt all along we would come back and win the second ball game.”
The back-to-back titles were the second and third state championships for Science Hill coach John Broyles who led the Hilltoppers to their first title in 1947, his first season as coach. All of the players interviewed fondly remembered Broyles. Many also remembered helping the coach on his farm, now the site where Target is located.
Larry Davis remembers the hours spent in the tobacco patch, while they all remembered Broyles as a coach fun to play for.
“Coach Broyles was the best,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t have hardly any signals. Our steal signal was simply point to go to second. But, he kept everybody happy and motivated. We didn’t take a pitcher out. I pitched the whole game, every game I pitched. Lonnie Lowe was one of the best pitchers in Tennessee high school history. Coach Broyles knew when to put Lonnie against some guys and me against some guys. It just seemed to work out every time like when Lonnie shut out Memphis Messick to win the first title in ’62.”
Edgemon recalled, “Coach Broyles was the sweetest man ever. Every time we went to the state tournament, we would stop in Jefferson City and go to church on Sunday. That was his rule and we didn’t question it. After church, we got back on the bus and headed west. Besides a coach, he was a great history teacher, too.”
Hager added, “Coach Broyles was a fun guy to play for. We did the same routine whether it was the first of the year or the state tournament. We’d go out and do exercises like the football team, run around the bases a few times, and we got five swings as batting practice. He would then put you out there and let you play.”