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Local impact proves huge in Senators' run

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 4, 2018 at 5:12 PM

Walters State finished up a dream season on the baseball diamond Saturday night and local players were a huge part of the Senators' success.

The Senators lost 10-7 to Chipola College out of Marianna, Fla., in the deciding game of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I championship. The Indians (49-17) became the first back-to-back national champion since Grayson College of Denison, Texas, in 1999 and 2000, and earned coach Jeff Johnson his third national title.

It was the fifth meeting between the two schools this season, with Walters State winning twice. Each team scored an 8-6 victory in the national tournament before the deciding game. It was a season in which the Senators finished 60-8, just one win shy of the school-record 61 wins set by the 2006 national championship team.

The Morristown school, which was ranked No. 1 in the country from March 27 until the end of the season, also led the nation with 737 runs scored and 790 hits — including 158 doubles, 30 triples and 116 home runs.

KNACK FOR EXCELLENCE

On the mound, former Science Hill star Landon Knack led the nation as a pitcher by going 13-0 over 16 games. He ranked amongst the leaders in both strikeouts (112) and walks allowed (13).

"For him to come back and pitch the way he did this year, that was a huge difference, maybe the turning point of the season with his ability on the mound," Walters State coach David Shelton said. "We didn't even recruit him as a pitcher because he had hurt himself in high school. He was recruited as a hitter, but for him to do what he did as a pitcher, it was unbelievable."

But Knack also played significant roles in the field and at the plate, appearing in 52 games overall and posting a .342 batting average with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs. He went 2 for 4 and drove in five runs in a 14-10 win over King University and was 3 for 4 with four RBIs against Union College.

"I see Landon excelling at the next level," Shelton said. "I see ETSU getting a great player and look for him to have a great career up there."

HUNGRY LIKE A WOLFE

Dobyns-Bennett alum Hunter Wolfe finished with nine home runs, 66 RBIs and a .419 batting average. He finished third in the nation in two categories with 41 stolen bases and 88 runs scored. He also provided a two-run single in the final game to give Walters State a 5-2 lead, which didn't hold up.

"He was phenomenal and he has set himself for big things, whether he decides to go pro or if he decides to go to TCU," Shelton said. "He has worked hard to become such a good ball player."

HOLLY, JOLLY SEASON

Jordan Holly, another Science Hill alum, played in 31 games and finished with a .282 average. His numbers likely would have been better in most years, Shelton said.

"Jordan was in a tough situation. He would have started for most of the teams we played against," Shelton said. "But both of my middle infielders were going to TCU next year and were potential high-round draft picks. He's a heckuva ballplayer and he will do well wherever he goes. I would love to have him back here next year, but he's almost advanced too far academically."

Other local products included Bubba Hubbard from Union High School, who pitched 9 1/3 innings over nine games. He had 18 strikeouts and a 4.82 earned run average. Another Senators player, Jacob Jennings, played at Morristown West for current Dobyns-Bennett assistant Nathan Fritz.

As a team, the Senators finished the year 23-1 at home and 15-2 on neutral sites — with both losses coming in the national tournament to Chipola.

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