Gone was Elizabethton’s dream of winning a Class AA state softball championship. It disappeared in the final inning Thursday when a two-run lead against defending state champion Christian Academy of Knoxville vanished as the Lady Warriors made their final stand count for victory.
CAK not only revived its season with a three-run rally against the Lady Cyclones, it used the comeback as a catalyst for a second straight title.
After beating Chattanooga Central later on Thursday, CAK stopped Creek Wood on Friday morning. Then the Lady Warriors used another seventh-inning rally to force extra innings against McNairy Central, ending with a 2-1 win. And finally, in the championship game, CAK scored in the top of the seventh for another 2-1 win. That was five wins in two days, facing elimination at every step.
There were two parts to the Class AA state tournament story. First, there was no dominant team. The title was up for grabs, and any of four or even five teams had a legitimate shot at it.
Second, Elizabethton had a chance. The Lady Cyclones just needed a finishing touch, and perhaps they would have been the team battling through the losers’ bracket to a title.
No, there’s no guarantee Elizabethton could have navigated a tough Creek Wood team, or pulled the double dip against McNairy Central.
But it’s easy to argue it was possible, given the way the Lady Cyclones absolutely jumped on CAK from the outset. They hit pitcher Allison Zimmerman like she was just another arm. Yes, this was the same CAK pitcher who struck out 24 batters in 15 innings against McNairy Central, allowing just eight hits and zero earned runs.
By contrast, Elizabethton battered Zimmerman for 10 hits and five earned runs in just seven innings. And this was the Lady Cyclones’ first-ever trip to the state softball tournament.
Elizabethton’s lineup was one of the toughest Northeast Tennessee has seen in quite some time, reminiscent of Unicoi County’s better groups of hitters — although not the home-run threat the Lady Blue Devils produced through the years.
In the shadows of Elizabethton’s disappointment this season, something grew for the future. With plenty of talented players returning for 2018, there is a reason to believe next year could produce another run at the state title — this time with state-tournament experience already in tow.
CAK will no longer be in the picture as the Lady Warriors move to Division II. However, this year’s Class AAA state champion, Corryton Gibbs, will move back to Class AA, meaning it will still be a hard climb to reach the top.
But the harder the climb, the more worthwhile the victory.
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When Christian Academy of Knoxville defeated Christ Presbyterian Academy for the Class AA state baseball title Friday, it was the final chapter to what basically amounts to a long-running joke the TSSAA has played on public schools.
There is a reason private schools should have their own division just the same as there is a reason NCAA football has two divisions: scholarship, facility and money differences give an advantage to certain universities — which translates into bigger, better, faster athletes and stronger teams with more depth. It’s less of a gap at the high school level, but it’s still a gap — and an unfair advantage.
Beginning with the 2017 school year, nearly all of the private schools will be in their own classification. Sorry, Class AAA, but you will still have to deal with Knox Catholic. We shall see how long that experiment lasts. The first time Catholic crosses the line — or even appears to cross it — the public schools are going to howl, loudly.
Just don’t expect any sympathy from the Class AA and Class A folks. They’ve had it up to their ears with private schools walking away with gold balls and trophies the public school should be displaying.
How much bling did the private schools pocket at this year’s Spring Fling at the expense of small county schools and the like? They captured five state team championships and two runner-up team finishes to go along with 23 other titles or runner-up trophies.
Take a look:
Boys team champion (CAK)
Girls team champion (Knox Catholic)
Boys doubles champion (CAK)
Girls doubles champion (Catholic)
Boys singles runner-up (Catholic)
Girls singles runner-up (CAK)
TRACK AND FIELD
Team champion (Catholic)
Pole vault champion (Lipscomb)
Pole vault runner-up (CPA)
High jump champion (CPA)
4x800 champion (Catholic)
1600 champion (Catholic)
1600 runner-up (Catholic)
800 champion (Catholic)
800 runner-up (Grace Christian)
3200 champion (Catholic)
3200 runner-up (Catholic)
Decathlon champion (CPA)
4x800 champion (CAK)
4x800 runner-up (Catholic)
Long jump runner-up (Lipscomb)
100 champion (Lipscomb)
4x200 runner-up (Lipscomb)
4x100 runner-up (Lipscomb)
1600 champion (CAK)
3200 champion (CAK)
Looking at that list, it’s pretty special what Greeneville and Franklin Page pulled off in the Class A-AA state soccer semifinals. Greeneville beat CPA 2-1, and Page beat CAK by the same score. Then Greeneville defeated Page 2-1 in a real public school state championship contest.
But things will change for all public schools, beginning with the 2017-18 school year. It’s basically like public schools went from winding two-lane roads to six-lane interstates in their quest for championships.
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The TSSAA did a fantastic job of running the Spring Fling this year. It was one of the organization’s best efforts, and it deserves to be recognized for it.
When the rains created scheduling havoc at the softball tournament, the TSSAA stayed on top of the issue and kept people informed of changes via its website.
People who worked on the fields before, during and after the rains did a great job of making sure the athletes had a good surface on which to play.
Things also went smoothly at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex, which is quite a challenge considering the number of fields, fans and players.
The Game Changer program made following baseball and softball tournaments a breeze, and the TSSAA certainly made a fan-friendly choice by allowing free access to follow participating teams. Soccer also had live updates, and things seemed to come off without any hiccups this year.
Twenty-four years of experience has paid off, and people like Bernard Childress, Matthew Gillespie and many others deserve a pat on the back for keeping the Spring Fling as the organization’s crown jewel.