Science Hill baseball off to good start

Douglas Fritz • Mar 20, 2017 at 5:22 PM

With a wintry start to the spring sports season, it cannot be said things are full-steam ahead for area baseball teams.

However, Science Hill did get a jump start with five games in the Grand Slam Classic in Murfreesboro. The Hilltoppers won three, lost one, and were unable to finish with Riverdale.

Science Hill beat Clarksville (5-3), Oakland (9-0) and Stewarts Creek (10-5) while losing to Murfreesboro Central Magnet (14-9). The Riverdale game was tied at 6-6 when it was called.

Head coach Ryan Edwards said he was pleased with what he saw from his team in its opening week.

“I was very pleased with our effort and focus the entire time,” said Edwards. “Playing quality teams, it exposes the things you need to work on. But I like our depth and team chemistry coming out of the gate.”

Edwards said he mixed and matched things, trying to get a read on his roster.

“We used a lot of different lineups,” said Edwards. “And we put 12 different guys on the mound. We got to see a lot of things.

“We can hopefully build off this as we gear up for our first two conference games this week.”

Science Hill will open Big Seven Conference play today against David Crockett at 6 o’clock, and it will be the Hilltoppers’ first game on the new turf at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

It could be the first chance for the Hilltoppers to exercise the advantage of their field being more rain proof as Tuesday’s forecast calls for wet weather.

“The only issue we have is right field,” said Edwards, noting the turf doesn’t extend into the outfield. “It doesn’t drain great. But if it rains all morning and quits by the afternoon, we should be fine. We will have to wait and see, but the turf won’t be an issue.”

Edwards said his team has gotten a lot of good work on the new infield.

“Just having the turf helps us get more practice,” said Edwards. “We’ve gotten more ground balls than we had before.”

Science Hill has changed dugouts, and will now be on the third-base side.

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Unicoi County hasn’t wasted time in breaking out the sticks. The Blue Devils are 3-0 with a win over Elizabethton (8-5) and two against Madison County, N.C., (12-0 and 22-1).

“I have seen some very positive things in the first week,” said Blue Devils’ head coach Chad Gillis. “Having scored 42 runs in 17 innings is a big positive. We are getting some great at-bats from these guys.

Other areas have been solid, too.

“Our pitchers have done well so far,” said Gillis. “And our defense has stepped up when needed. The biggest positive is how these guys proved they will not quit and someone, maybe not who you expect, can step up at any moment.”

Unicoi County traveled to play Sullivan South on Monday night. The Blue Devils will be back at home Tuesday for a 5:30 p.m. start against Johnson County.

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The 2017 East Tennessee Classic softball tournament will be played this weekend at Winged Deer Park.

There are 15 teams in the field with action getting under way at 4 p.m. Friday. Pool play continues through Saturday at 1 p.m. Bracket competition begins at 1:30 p.m. with the Gold Bracket championship scheduled for 6:45 on Field 1.

This is the seventh annual tournament.

“We first had it at Metro/Kiwanis, but it outgrew that park,” said Science Hill head coach Jerry Higgins. “We were lucky enough to move it to Winged Deer in 2015 with the help of James Ellis and the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department.”

Higgins said the drawing card for the tournament is finishing what you start.

“The best part about the tournament is the fact we have full seven-inning games,” said Higgins. “Most tournaments have time limits that shorten the games to three, four or five innings at the most, and most tournaments have marathon elimination brackets.

“I like the fact that in the East Tennessee Classic each team knows they are going to play five full games — no more, no less — which really gives you a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses in the early part of the season.”

Another key point is the championship brackets are set up so teams meet others with equal strengths.

“You play teams your team compares with, so the opportunity for competitive games for each team are possible,” said Higgins. “I ran the Eastman Tournament for 10 years, and believe me I did not like being the No. 16 seed playing the No. 1 seed because your chances of being competitive in that matchup was slim.”

Higgins said he hopes to expand the tournament to 20 dependable teams in the future. That’s the maximum number for a tournament with this type of setup, he said.

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With minimal games to see how things are looking, here’s a look at the first High School Top 10 of the baseball season:

1. Science Hill (3-1)

2. Tennessee High (3-1)

3. Unicoi County (3-0)

4. Sullivan South (1-0)

5. Greeneville (2-0)

6. Dobyns-Bennett (0-4)

7. Daniel Boone (2-2)

8. David Crockett (2-2)

9. Elizabethton (1-1)

10. Sullivan East (1-1)

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And here’s a quick peak at the early softball rankings:

1. Daniel Boone (3-3)

2. Elizabethton (1-0)

3. Unicoi County (0-0)

4. David Crockett (1-0)

5. Science Hill (0-4)

6. Dobyns-Bennett (1-2)

7. Tennessee High (3-1)

8. Sullivan East (1-0)

9. University High (0-0)

10. Sullivan South (1-0)

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