KINGSPORT - Traveling south to play in high school tournaments during the spring can do wonders for teams. Arms loosen up, bats start making better contact and spirits get a needed lift in the sunshine.
It certainly worked for the Greeneville baseball team recently.
Randy Richards' team started off the season 1-5. The Greene Devils now are 8-9 and will be in the Coca-Cola Classic semifinals at J. Fred Johnson Stadium today at 3:30 p.m. against Sullivan South.
Greeneville defeated Sullivan North 7-2 Friday night on the strong clutch pitching of sophomore Ryan Fillers. Fillers, a sidearming right-hander, blanked the Golden Raiders over the last five innings after falling behind 2-1.
"Another complete game, that's nice,'' Richards said, referring to T.J. Knight's route-going performance against Sullivan East on Thursday. "Ryan is just a sophomore and he's doing a good job.''
Richards feels playing in the tourney at Charleston, S.C., gave his team a boost.
"It's good just to get away from home and concentrate on baseball for a week,'' he said. "It does a lot for your team. We were struggling before we went down there.''
Justin Merkle and Ryan Duncan each collected two hits for Greeneville. Matt Summey and Nick Moore got two apiece for North.
Richards faces a challenge today. Some of his players have ACT tests scheduled this morning and the school prom is set for tonight.
Steve Dixon, North's coach, bemoaned the damage caused by Greeneville walks.
"Five of Greeneville's seven runs were the direct result of walks,'' Dixon said. "We didn't make any errors and played good defense. You can't walk batters and expect to win.''
In other action, South gunned down Morristown West 5-4.
Weston Carr and Tyler Ball combined to throw a five-hitter for the Rebels. Carr remained unbeaten in four decisions. Ball bailed South out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the seventh to preserve the win.
A three-run uprising in the third inning gave South the impetus it needed to win.
Ball, Ben Daniels and Seth Johnson singled. Jordan Kitzmiller and Josh Bedingfield laid down run-scoring squeeze bunts and Justin Crawford singled in the other run.
Ball produced what proved to be the winning run with a double in the sixth.
Daniels went 3-for-3 and Ball, Johnson, Crawford and Kitzmiller each got a pair of hits. All told, the Rebels pounded two West pitchers for 12 hits.
"We had a good night with the bats,'' South coach Anthony Richardson said. "Weston threw well and Tyler got us out of trouble in the last inning.''
Dobyns-Bennett will tangle with Science Hill in the other semifinal game at 1 p.m.
Semifinal winners will meet at 6 p.m. for the championship.
Gate City learned firsthand that a game isn't over until it's over.
The "Battle of the Blues'' went to Unicoi County 10-7 after Gate City had struck for an early 7-1 lead.
Winning pitcher Ethan Williams decided the game with a 365-foot grand slam in the sixth inning.
After taking over in relief, Williams stopped Gate City cold. The losing Blue Devils went scoreless over the last five innings.
Gate City's Jon Pope smashed a 380-foot, three-run homer in the first inning.
An outfield error by Gate City proved critical during a five-run burst by the winning Blue Devils in the second.
"We made a couple of bonehead plays,'' Gate City coach Shannon Carter said. "We keep putting ourselves in situations to win but just can't get over the hump.''
He declined to use youth as an excuse for losing.
"These guys have been playing baseball all their lives,'' Carter said. "Being young shouldn't have that much to do with this kind of loss.''
Carter said even though his team has lost twice, being in the tourney has been a plus. "The competition over here is great. That's why we came.''