The 26th annual five-sport state championship chase concluded Friday in Murfreesboro. Area teams came up empty in their battles, but several individuals were able to lay claim to the gold standard.
As for the baseball problems, the TSSAA has already taken a major step in the right direction with the pitch-count rule. It seems to be effective for the regular season, but has postseason flaws and the organization should go a step further to fix it.
For starters, there should be a cumulative pitch-count limit for the state tournament. In this year’s tournament, Class A state champion Greenback had a player throw 194 pitches in four days — 74 on Tuesday, one short of the maximum before three days rest would be required, and 120 on Friday, the max for one game.
Yes, Greenback met the letter of the law. But considering the fact Major League Baseball teams wouldn’t put that many pitches on a player’s arm in that short amount of time — even in the World Series — why is the TSSAA allowing high school kids to do it? And these were high-leverage pitches. Greenback’s championship game against Trinity Christian was tied or a one-run affair for every single pitch of the contest.
To prevent this in the future, the TSSAA should adopt a cumulative limit of 150 pitches for state tournament purposes. It would be a common-sense move because 76 pitches requires three days’ rest — eliminating the use of that pitcher for the rest of the tournament. So there should be third-day restrictions for pitchers who have already thrown 75 pitches in the state.
Coaches have been given too much leeway, and some of them apparently view the pitch-count limits as numbers to be manipulated instead of used to protect the kids.
But the issue wasn’t confined to the state tournament. Staying within the current TSSAA guidelines, Pigeon Forge had a kid throw 329 pitches in a 10-day stretch from the region semifinals to the second day of the state tournament.
Because most coaches want their ace pitcher throwing in Monday’s region semifinal and Friday’s sectional round, the TSSAA needs some pre-state tournament planning. One option is changing the postseason format.
Using this year’s calendar, the TSSAA could have required districts to be completed by Tuesday, May 7, with the region semifinals on Saturday, May 11.
That would put the region finals on Monday, May 13, and the sectionals on Wednesday, May 15.
Every pitcher on every team in the state tournament would enter the event with five days of rest — a complete reset of the pitching staff. Then the cumulative limit could kick in so coaches can’t overuse their top pitcher in Murfreesboro.
The only change teams would have to make is starting their district tournament a couple of days earlier. It wouldn’t cost them any regular season games, especially if all district tournaments used the format where only four teams are involved in the double-elimination portion of the event.
Another option — which would prevent one pitcher from carrying a team to the state tournament — is having a best-of-three series for the sectional round. Using the 2019 calendar, the format could be:
— Districts complete by May 7 (Tuesday)
— Region semifinals May 11 (Saturday)
— Region finals May 13 (Monday)
— Sectional doubleheader May 15 (Wednesday) at the home of the region champ
— Sectional if-necessary game May 16 (Thursday) at the home of the region runner-up
This would still allow four days’ rest for all pitchers heading into the state tournament.
Trinity Christian can blame, at least partly, the traditional baseball celebration dogpile for its heartbreaking loss of the Class A state baseball title.
What appeared to be a walk-off single to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning against Greenback was turned into a 9-3 putout. Unfortunately for Trinity, the batter apparently did not touch first base as he headed toward the team’s celebration near second base. At the urging of the Greenback coach, the Cherokees got ball back to the infield and stepped on first base. The umpires ruled the runner out and the game went into extra innings — where Greenback won, 2-1.
Science Hill (Class AAA), Elizabethton (Class AA) and University High (Class A) combined for just one victory in seven games in The Boro.
There were, however, plenty of competitive games. Science Hill was tied 3-3 with Summit heading to the seventh inning. And the Hilltoppers led 4-0 against Bartlett in their second game.
Elizabethton lost on a walk-off error in game one, earned a win in game two, and fell again by one run in game No. 3.
University High lost by a combined score of 20-3, but the Buccaneers probably have the brightest outlook for 2020. Trinity Christian and Franklin Grace won’t be in next year’s tournament — nor will Columbia Academy — as part of the TSSAA’s public-private split.
Had the split been in place this year, Gibson County (30-6) and Gordonsville (29-5) would likely have been in the Class A tournament — neither of them a pushover, but neither holding private-school advantages.
DANIEL BOONE SOFTBALL
The Lady Trailblazers probably couldn’t have imagined their region semifinal game was basically playing for the state title.
Boone lost a tough 3-2 decision, and Jefferson County rode pitcher Catelyn Riley all the way to the Class AAA state championship. She pitched a three-hit shutout in the title game as Jeff County beat Murfreesboro Siegel, 3-0.
The Lady Trailblazers were perhaps only a run or two away from a state title, and they finished with the most victories in the state (44). Siegel finished with 43.
SCIENCE HILL TENNIS
Kelly Lane has Science Hill’s boys tennis program on an upward plane.
The Hilltoppers reached the state’s final four before a loss to eventual champion Brentwood.
With Griffen Nickles heading into his junior season, there’s reason to believe the Hilltoppers still have more state-level noise to make.
Science Hill defeated the eventual state champions.
The Hilltoppers shocked Knox Bearden 1-0 in the Region 1-AAA final, but lost to Karns in the sectional. Bearden regrouped to defeat Knox Farragut in the sectional before beating Murfreesboro Oakland and Brentwood to reach the finals. In the title match, Bearden needed a 4-3 edge in penalty kicks to hold off Station Camp.
In Class AA, Greeneville captured its third straight state title. The Greene Devils were making their ninth straight state appearance.
Franklin Grace captured one of the final state titles for private schools playing in the public division. The Lions defeated defending state champion Gatlinburg-Pittman 4-1 in the Class A final Friday.
Dobyns-Bennett’s Darwin Bond ruled the 440-yard dash for three years, winning state titles in 1968, 1969 and 1970.
In 1970, Bond set a state record by posting a time of 46.76. The mark stood for 49 years until Memphis Whitehaven’s Emanuel Bynum scorched the earth for a time of 46.60 during Thursday’s Large School meet.
Bynum, who has signed with the University of Tennessee, won three events at the state. He was first in the 100 in 10.76 and 200 in 21.28.