BY DOUGLAS FRITZ, Johnson City Press
Science Hill, Elizabethton and University High’s baseball teams apparently didn’t like the way things finished last year, as they are all back for another shot at a state championship.
The 26th annual TSSAA Spring Fling begins Tuesday in Murfreesboro. Six area teams are involved with Unaka softball, Science Hill boys tennis, and Dobyns-Bennett girls tennis joining the baseball entrants. No area team reached the state tournament in soccer.
Baseball and softball tournaments are double-elimination events. All tennis events, team and individual, are single elimination.
Here’s a look at the area competitors in the Spring Fling.
Tuesday’s opening round
Science Hill (27-12) vs. Summit (25-11)
It’s a tall order for the Hilltoppers as 6-foot-7, 250-pound Blake Money likely awaits on the mound.
A junior who has committed to LSU, Money maintains a low-90s velocity with a fastball that explodes on the batters. He throws three pitches for strikes, including a late-fading changeup.
“Based on scouting we need to lay off high stuff,” said Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards. “We need to look for pitches in the zone we can handle. Don’t get too big with our swings against high velocity.”
If the Spartans want to go a different direction, junior right-hander Chris McElvain is a Vanderbilt commitment who brings the fastball home in the high 80s with a curveball and slider also at his disposal.
Those two players hit first (McElvain) and second in the batting order as well.
In the bracket — Bartlett (31-12) vs. Farragut (38-3)
Bartlett has a deep pitching staff that has allowed just six runs in its last nine games with six shutouts. Farragut has won 31 of its last 32 games and has surrendered just 16 runs in its last 11 games.
History — Science Hill, making its 21st appearance, is 22-30 all-time in the state tournament. The Hilltoppers won titles in 1998, 1963, 1962 and 1947.
Elizabethton (26-8) vs. Nolensville (21-14)
It’s just the third year of existence for the Knights, who started in 2016 with ninth- and 10th-grade students.
In that initial freshman class were Kyler Hayes, Tyler Smith, Reece Milam and Dawson Conder, and they join now-senior Carson Robble to form the nucleus of this year’s team.
Pitchers Hayes and Milam have good control and have been tough to beat this season. Conder is a dangerous stick in the middle of the lineup while Smith is a speedy leadoff man.
“It’s a good scrappy baseball club that absolutely belongs in the state tournament,” said Cyclones coach Ryan Presnell. “At this time of year there are nothing but good teams.”
In the bracket — Covington (30-7) boasts a pair of Memphis commitments in Ty Warmath and Austin Baskin. Both are pitchers with mid-80s velocity.
Pigeon Forge (27-7) has senior lefty Hunter Monday, who has mid-80s velocity but threw 213 pitches last week.
History — Elizabethton is 5-7 all-time in the state tournament. The Cyclones will try to reach the finals for the first time since a state final loss to Memphis Central in 1958.
University High (25-13) vs. Trinity Christian (35-3)
These teams met in the losers’ bracket last year and UH was down only 4-3 heading into the seventh inning.
“We will go off what we saw last year, and we played a pretty tough game,” said UH coach Josh Petty.
Trinity boasts a pair of low-to-mid-80s fastballs coming from the arms of Lane Lamberth (Belmont commitment) and junior Lane Forsythe (Mississippi State commitment).
In the bracket — Loretto (31-5) and Franklin Grace (11-16).
Loretto has junior Tennessee commitment Blade Tidwell, who has a 90 mph fastball in his arsenal. He threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts in the sectional while also going 3 for 4 with a double and a game-ending grand slam on the mercy rule.
Grace can’t be properly evaluated by its record. The Lions played a killer schedule consisting of out-of-state, private-school and Class AAA teams. They did not play a league schedule or district tournament because they are the only baseball team in District 7. Against Class A competition, the Lions head to the state tournament with a record of 5-0.
History — UH is 3-9 all-time in the state event. The Buccaneers were state runners-up in 1987.
In 1992, UH defeated eventual state champion Summertown, 5-2. The teams met again in the losers’ bracket final and the game was tied 8-8 before Summertown pushed across a run in the top of the seventh. Summertown then beat Davidson Academy twice for the title.
Unaka (24-21) vs. Summertown (34-5)
The defending state champion Lady Eagles have won 14 straight games and 26 of their last 27. Their only loss to a Tennessee team all season was against Class AA state tournament entrant Forrest.
Unaka is making its third straight appearance while Summertown is in the field for the fourth straight year.
History — Unaka has a record of 5-18 in the state tournament.
BOYS TEAM TENNIS
Science Hill vs. Brentwood
The semifinal matchup presents quite a challenge for the Hilltoppers.
Both teams own four state titles. Brentwood’s most recent came in 2013 while Science Hill’s last championship was 2009.
GIRLS TEAM TENNIS
Dobyns-Bennett vs. Collierville
The Lady Indians lost to eventual champion Brentwood in last year’s semifinals. D-B has won four titles (2005, 2004, 1979, 1978) and finished runner-up in 2012.
Collierville is making its second appearance. It lost to Brentwood in the 2017 semifinals.
BOYS INDIVIDUAL TENNIS
Large School quarterfinals
Science Hill’s Griffen Nickels faces off against Nathan Zou of Murfreesboro Central in singles.
In doubles, Tennessee High’s Hagan Oakley and David Bieger will play Knoxville West’s Stefan Steiger and Oliver Bonovich.
Small School quarterfinals
Sullivan North’s Adam Nelson will meet Columbia Academy’s Sidney Marques.
GIRLS INDIVIDUAL TENNIS
Large School quarterfinals
Keona Fielitz of Tennessee drew Collierville’s Romane Britt.
In doubles, Dobyns-Bennett’s duo of Lainey Hill and Sydney Berry will match up with Lincoln County’s Julia Marsh and Lucy Higgins.
Small School quarterfinals
Johnson County’s Olivia Cox and Taylor Cox were paired against Jordan Reed and Cameron Reed of Halls.
(Top five qualifiers)
Thursday’s Large School meet
Pole vault — No. 3 Devin McKenna (Daniel Boone) and No. 4 Samuel Cleek (Dobyns-Bennett)
Shot put — No. 4 Cade Salyers of Dobyns-Bennett
Discus — No. 5 Jeremiah Sullivan of Daniel Boone
800 meter run — No. 2 Jeb Jones of Science Hill
Girls pole vault — No. 5 Halie Hawkins of Unicoi County
Girls triple jump — No. 4 Madison Cowan of Sullivan South
Girls 4x800 relay — No. 2 Dobyns-Bennett
Girls 1600 run — No. 1 Jenna Hutchins (Science Hill), No. 2 Sasha Neglia (Dobyns-Bennett)
Girls 800 run — No. 1 Jenna Hutchins (Science Hill)
Girls 3200 run — No. 1 Sasha Neglia (Dobyns-Bennett)
Girls 4x400 relay — No. 5 Science Hill
Friday’s Small School meet
Pole vault — No. 2 Connor Ford of University High
3200 run — No. 2 Porter Bradley of University High
Girls pole vault — No. 1 Natalie Newsome of Happy Valley
Girls 3200 run — No. 5 Ali Burns of University High