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South Doyle shuts out D-B

BILL LANE • May 20, 2007 at 12:42 PM

KNOXVILLE - Receiving the state's No. 1 ranking can be a blessing or a curse.

In Dobyns-Bennett's case, it perhaps was the latter.

Picked as the top team in a Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association poll early in the season, D-B (33-8) made lots of noise on the field until slumping two weeks ago. The Indians bowed out of the TSSAA sectional Friday night with barely a whimper.

South-Doyle (30-7), a team with five major college signees, eliminated the Indians from competition with an 8-0 win.

The Cherokees stunned D-B by belting three homers in the opening inning.

Chad Bell, a senior left-hander with a sparkling 0.90 ERA, turned in a one-hit performance against Northeast Tennessee's hardest hitting team.

Bell's record is 13-0 this season. In the last two years, his only defeat was at the hands of D-B 3-0 in the 2006 season.

South-Doyle, a school in its 15th year of existence, will be going to the state tournament for the first time. The Cherokees must play Oakland (43-1), ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, in the first round of an eight-team, double-elimination event at Murfreesboro on Tuesday.

"I couldn't be happier for our community,'' South-Doyle coach Robbie Howard said. "At the same time, I really hurt for D-B's team. I've known the coach, Mike Ritz, for a long time and he does a great job with what I consider to be one of the state's top two or three programs.

"They beat us twice during the season. Our kids were excited and a little nervous coming in tonight.''

The issue, for all intents and purposes, was settled early on. D-B starter Bo Burton didn't have his usual stuff and South-Doyle unloaded the bat rack in the first inning.

Jacob Fowler reached base on the first of three infield errors by D-B in the game. Eric Conley smashed a 375-foot homer to left-center on the first pitch he saw. Bryce Brentz singled, and Matt Kirkland jumped on the first pitch for a 380-foot homer to left-center. Another error set up South-Doyle's third two-run homer of the inning, and Bell - the winning pitcher - hit a 370-foot shot to right.

"In 38 years of coaching, that's the first time anybody has hit three homers in the same inning against a team of mine,'' Ritz said.

However, it wasn't a first for South-Doyle. The Cherokees did it in the district, regional and sectional. Against William Blount, two of South-Doyle's three homers in one inning were grand slams.

"They say hitting is contagious,'' Bell said.

Bell pitched brilliantly. The only hit by D-B was a wrong-field single by substitute third baseman Gabe Overcast in the second inning. Bell allowed just three baserunners. He struck out 13 batters, including 11 over the last five innings.

"We didn't hit a ball hard all night,'' Ritz said. "The season kind of turned on us. We never really played well after the district tournament started. It didn't have anything to do with peaking too early. You have to get tougher when playing teams that have been successful. You've got to turn it up a notch.

"Bell dominated us. He had good velocity and control.''

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bell said South-Doyle learned from its two losses to the Indians.

"We had two pitching charts on their batters,'' Bell explained. "Ryan Holland is another left-hander who pitches a lot like I do and he lost to D-B 3-2 up there.

"I was hitting my spots. I tried to locate the pitches and work ahead in the count. When you continue to hit the spots you can lose velocity and still be effective.''

Bell's pitches had been clocked as fast as 91 mph in other games. "He was throwing at least 87 mph tonight,'' Ritz said.

Bell, Holland and shortstop Chad Zurcher are all headed to Memphis. Outfielder Bryce Brentz is going to Middle Tennessee. Third baseman Cody Hawn, who sat out the entire season after tearing up a knee in gym class, has signed with Arkansas.

Tyler Joyce relieved Burton in the opening inning and finished the game. He did not give up an earned run.

"I was in the bullpen and couldn't see what happened,'' Joyce said, "but I could hear the bats sounding. South-Doyle got on top of us early.

"I hope (the Cherokees) go on to win the state championship. It makes you feel better when a team that has beaten you wins it. South-Doyle is worthy of it.''

Ritz said baseball is not like basketball or football. "It's the most family-oriented sport. I've had a good time with this team for the last three years. The players' parents have been very supportive. As a group, many of these boys have been together since they were 9 or 10 years old.''

D-B lost four of its last five games.

Even Derek Trent, the most prolific slugger in D-B history, went out quietly. He was 0-for-2. The Cherokees directed most of the pitches to him on the outside of the strike zone.

Trent hit seven homers in the postseason and 20 overall.

South-Doyle could pose a threat to Oakland for the state title. The Cherokees have three quality pitchers.

"We've conditioned our guys to throw on three days' rest,'' Howard said.

Howard is a former Unicoi County player who was a teammate of World Series pitcher Ed Whitson while at Erwin..

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