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Gillis accepts challenge at tradition-rich Unicoi

June 21st, 2014 8:11 pm by Douglas Fritz

Gillis accepts challenge at tradition-rich Unicoi

Chad Gillis / Courtesy Erwin Record

When Chad Gillis begins his first season as Unicoi County’s head baseball coach, he won’t just be following a legend.

Gillis will also face the challenge of continuing a program tradition with more state-level success than any other in Northeast Tennessee history as the Blue Devils own four Class AA state championships and six runner-up finishes.

“It sets the bar high,” said Gillis, a Unicoi County assistant coach who was chosen to succeed Charlie Baxter this week. “And it makes us set the bar high. My first year I want to come out and do as good as Charlie has done in the past.”

Gillis was part of the Blue Devils’ program from 1998-2001, the years when Baxter stepped aside from baseball and eventually into softball. He pointed out the fact the program didn’t flounder in those “inbetween years” under Chris Bogart.

“I played for Chris, and we worked as hard as Charlie had worked those guys,” said Gillis. “Chris had no lower expectations than Charlie, and the same goals. Chris didn’t get a state championship, but we were successful and Chris carried the tradition well.”

Gillis pitched in the state tournament in 2000, losing to eventual champion White House. He went on to pitch at Walters State Community College for two years before spending three seasons at Carson-Newman (arm surgery forced him to take a red-shirt year).

After college, Gillis continued his baseball career in the independent Frontier League.

“It was professional, but not affiliated,” said Gills. “I was there for 21?2 months, but ended up being released for a veteran guy who had been injured. I had another opportunity two or three weeks later to renew a contract, but I decided not to do it.”

Gillis has been learning the finer points of coaching high school baseball under Baxter and his son, Andy, who will remain in the program under Gillis.

“It is a bonus to have Andy,” said Gillis. “He’s been there for 10 years. The guys are used to his coaching style, and used to what he expects. And we work well together.”

Andy Baxter is expected to be the hitting coach while Gillis said his strengths are pitching and defense.

“That’s just my comfort zone,” said Gills. “Especially in college, I got all of the pitching stuff every day. But I feel pretty good with the whole thing.”

One thing Gillis said really stands out for him is having a chance to take over a program he has long admired.

“I grew up close to the field, and watched a lot of games as a kid,” said Gillis. “I’m close to the program, and it has really been a dream. I remember in high school thinking it could happen one day. When it did, it was kind of surreal. Overall I’m excited about the opporutnity to lead this program.”

Of course, players like rising sophomore Brandon Garland could make things easier for Gillis in the win column.

“Brandon is our main guy on the pitching staff,” said Gillis. “He’s a workhorse who battles in whatever situation you put him in. It’s exciting to know you have him three more years. He gives 100 percent, and I think that rubs off on the other players.

“Also, Will Hubbard had a good summer. I don’t think he lost a game. Our pitching staff will be the strong point of the team.”

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