Judging from the brackets, it’s Elizabethton baseball. The Cyclones are on a roll and in a favorable bracket. However, at this time of year it comes down to doing the little things right, and — especially in baseball with the pitch-count rule — teams have to adapt and adjust to difficult situations.
It’s all part of the TSSAA’s five-sport state championship chase in the 25th annual Spring Fling, which runs today through Friday in Murfreesboro. Titles are up for grabs in baseball, softball, soccer, tennis and track.
Team tennis is today and Wednesday at the Adams Tennis Complex, followed by individual singles and doubles on Thursday and Friday. In track and field at Middle Tennessee State, the Small School competition is Wednesday and Large School meet is Thursday.
Here’s a preview of today’s first-round games for area teams in baseball, soccer and softball.
Science Hill (35-7) vs. Collierville (35-7), 5 p.m.
The good news is the Hilltoppers are in the hunt.
The bad news is dominant ace pitcher Brandon Feathers can’t pitch until at least Thursday, meaning Science Hill will have to win at least two games to get him to the mound. Feathers threw 107 pitches in Saturday’s sectional win over Knox Karns, and the last two tosses put him the TSSAA’s mandatory four-day rest period.
“We could not risk taking him out,” said Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards, whose team won 4-0. “I’ve coached a long time and faced a lot of situations of not being able to get the final out. We’ve got to trust the whole pitching staff if we’re going to win the state.”
Science Hill’s staff has given up just 11 runs in seven postseason games. The Hilltoppers have four shutouts in that stretch.
Garrett Wilkins, who hurled a 12-strikeout, three-hit shutout against Seymour in the Region 1-AAA finals, likely gets the starting nod against Collierville — which likely counters with Tyler Sherman, who is coming off shutouts of Houston and Bartlett.
Elizabethton (26-8) vs. Stewart County (24-6), 5 p.m.
Cyclones coach Ryan Presnell said his team has worked hard to build its identity.
“One of our biggest challenges will be to maintain that identity through adversity,” said Presnell. “It we do that, the outcome will take care of itself and we can rest assured we did the right things.”
The Rebels had to battle their way through the region and sectional, using five different pitchers to win two of three games by a combined score of 12-9.
Logan Beecham figures to get the ball in a starting role for Stewart. He will likely be opposed by Elizabethton’s Tre Shoun, but Evan Carter could be in the mix as well.
Leadoff hitter Thorne Gray and Beecham in the 3-hole are among the biggest threats in the lineup.
University High (23-11) vs. Loretto (31-2), 7:30 p.m.
Loretto left-hander Ryan Weathers has outstanding control, having thrown a stunning 114 strikes in his last 142 pitches. The Vanderbilt signee and likely first-round major league draft pick has struck out a staggering 27 batters in his last 12 innings.
“The kids are excited to dig in against him,” said University High coach Josh Petty. “We know he is a controlled pitcher who lives around the zone. The kids know to look fastball only because any other approach will see the ball by you in a hurry. We know he is a special player who has (major league) first-round talent.”
Weathers is also Loretto’s leadoff hitter.
The Bucs can’t turn to Jack Bembry because of pitch-count rest, so the start likely goes to Cas Blevins.
Dobyns-Bennett (19-0-2) vs. Blackman (13-0-1), 5:30 p.m.
If you look at Blackman’s record, it’s impressive. But the Blaze only played three teams with a winning record this season.
Still, Indiansn coach Blake Rutherford isn’t taking the Murfreesboro team for granted.
“Blackman is a good team,” Rutherford said. “They run different formations than we are accustomed to playing. We’ve got to exploit our speed and pace and try to get behind their defense. We’ve also got to be disciplined, defensively and with the game management.”
Blackman has just two shutouts this season while the Indians have racked up 15. D-B has outscored its opponents 21-2 in the postseason.
The road is well paved for the Tribe to reach the finals. However, a potential semifinal matchup against four-time state champion Brentwood could be tough.
Unaka (28-12) vs. Gibson County (24-10), 5 p.m.
The Lady Rangers have seen some hard times at the state, but this year’s first-round matchup looks like a better chance for success because the Lady Pioneers are making their first-ever appearance.
It’s a far cry from Unaka’s ridiculously uneven opener last year against private school powerhouse Goodpasture Christian, which is now in Division II and did not make it to the state tournament this year.
Unaka will try to get on the scoreboard this time. The Lady Rangers have been outscored 32-0 in their last three state contests and shut out seven times in their past 10 games in Murfreesboro.