Since that move, North Greene has won two conference titles, two district championships, two region titles — including its first in 29 years — earned three sectional appearances, and reached the Class A state tournament.
And this year’s team is trying to eclipse all of that. Heading into Thursday’s game at Sullivan North, the Huskies had compiled a record of 23-4 — including a perfect 10-0 slate in the Watauga Valley Conference — with two of those losses coming against out-of-state teams and the other two against Class AA teams.
Lady is no stranger to success. Before getting to North Greene, he turned Chuckey-Doak into a winning program. And the Johnson City native was part of Science Hill’s state tournament baseball team in 1972.
“I played third base,” said Lady. “We weren’t supposed to be in the state, but we upset Morristown West, 1-0.”
Lady’s experiences growing up in Johnson City helped prepare him to take over at North Greene, a program that not only struggled to win but also had subpar facilities that have since been upgraded.
“I was a poor little kid from the south side, the Keystone area,” said Lady. “Baseball was the only thing I knew. Baseball has taken care of me. I’d probably be in a gutter if not for baseball.
“I played for Henry Joy Jr. in Little League. Our team was the Shockers, and we went 1-20 the first year and 5-16 the next year. But when we turned 11 years old we went 16-5, and then 20-1 the next year.”
As a young boy in Johnson City, Lady had a little side “hobby” to make a few cents here and there.
“We would go out to Rolling Hills on the other side of the golf course,” said Lady. “We would hide out there, and wait for them to hit their balls up on the hill. We would grab the balls, and go sell them for 25 cents or 50 cents.
“I remember one time Lonnie Lowe saw me and yelled, “Hey, Lady! Put that ball down!”
When Lady got to high school, he wasn’t the biggest or fastest or strongest kid on the team. But there were people who saw something in him.
“Duard Aldridge and Dennis Greenwell were my coaches,” said Lady. “They believed in me. I owe all my success to them. The only thing I knew was I wanted get into coaching.”
After getting out of the Army, Lady was spotted by Jerry Weems and Wes Holly while playing fast-pitch softball. They told Lady he could get a scholarship to Tusculum College.
“I walked on at Tusculum when I was 25 years old, and I started four years at shortstop,” said Lady.
In 20 years at Chuckey-Doak, Lady got the Black Knights to the point they could sometimes challenge perennial powerhouse Unicoi County. So it wasn’t a surprise when North Greene immediately became competitive when he took over.
Lady cleaned house, running off enough players that only 11 remained during the 2011 season. He didn’t even have enough kids for courtesy runners that season.
“I inserted some freshmen in the starting lineup, and they blossomed,” said Lady. “We were 16-16 that first year. We upset University High in the district, and made it to the substate.”
In that group of freshman was Tyler Bailey, who has gone on to win game after game for North Greene on the mound. Lady said he believes Bailey may be closing in on 30 career victories, and the right-hander has totaled at least six no-hitters, and several one-hitters.
“He’s averaging 10-12 strikeouts a game,” said Lady of Bailey, who is 6-1 on the season with his only loss a 2-1 decision against Sullivan East on opening day. “He’s smart, and he knows the game. He’s got four pitches now. I had to convince him to throw the changeup. To me, that’s the best pitch in baseball.”
Also in Bailey’s now-senior class are catcher Brett Bolton, third baseman Zak Potter, and pitcher/outfielder Zack O’Neill.
“Brett is a quality young man, and he will be a leader one of these days,” said Lady. “Zak is a big third baseman. When he came in, he was as highly touted as Tyler as a pitcher. But he tore his labrum and hasn’t pitched much.
“(O’Neill) is a pitcher, and he’s 4-1 on the season. He’s not a real strong hitter, but he can fly. He catches anything in the outfield.”
A strong junior class adds to the mix, including left-handed pitcher and first baseman Troy Hall, and shortstop Zane Britton, who is batting .530 on the season. Another key junior is right fielder Will West, who attended University School and Science Hill before transferring to North Greene.
After beating Rockwood to reach the state in 2012, the Huskies were tripped up by Grace Christian in the 2013 sectional. This year’s team has its sights set on Murfreesboro once again.
“That’s our goal, but anything can happen,” said Lady. “I remember one time with Josh Kite where we got beat 1-0 on a no-hitter. We’ve got to be prepared every time. Just because we’ve beaten a team pretty bad doesn’t mean we will do it again.”
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