Standout teams and individuals in the five TSSAA-sanctioned spring sports will converge in Rutherford County (and Wilson Central) for the 22nd annual Spring Fling Championships this week.
Several Midstate athletes and teams are primed for state championship runs — some defending 2014 titles. Here are a few things to look for at Spring Fling:
Raptors battle-tested: After capturing the regular-season District 11-AAA, Ravenwood’s postseason journey has been a little rockier than expected.
The Raptors, who lost to Summit in the semifinals of the district tournament, narrowly edged Centennial 9-7 in Wednesday’s Region 6-AAA championship before securing a spot in state with Darrell Freeman’s extra-inning, walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning of Friday’s sectional win over Wilson Central.
“Our kids are mature,” said Ravenwood coach Teddy Craig, whose squad posted a 1-2 record in last year’s state tournament, including an 8-7, season-ending defeat to Riverdale. “They’ve been through a lot of battles the last two years, and we’ve won a lot of big games like the one (on Friday). A year makes a big difference.”
That makes two: Despite losing a handful of key contributors from last year’s state tournament team — the first in school history — Christ Presbyterian Academy has clawed its way back to Murfreesboro.
CPA (28-10), which punched its state tournament ticket with Friday’s momentous 11-3 win over Region 5-AAA champion Lipscomb Academy, is optimistic about its chances.
Cautiously optimistic: Dickson County has to be considered a favorite to win the Class AAA tournament.
After all, the defending champion Lady Cougars have been on an absolute tear this postseason, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 58-8.
“Our pitching has been very good with Brooklin Lee, our defense has played well and our bats have really warmed up,” Dickson County coach Shane Buchanan said. “It’s that time of year that you need to peak, and we’ve done that.”
Uphill battle: It’s been nearly a decade since a school other than Baylor or Girls Preparatory School has claimed the Division II Class AA crown.
Pope John Paul II knows this all too well.
The Lady Knights (20-8), who’ll be making their sixth straight Spring Fling appearance next week, believe this season could be the one to change that.
“They’re at the top of the mountain, and that’s where everybody is trying to get to,” JPII coach Jody Brothers said. “We’ve seen what we have to do in order to play with a Baylor and a GPS. We’ve played them, and I think we’ve gotten the respect out of those two teams due to the way we played them in the regular season.”
New leader, same results: Winning a state title is tough. Defending one can be an even more daunting task.
That’s the challenge facing Christ Presbyterian Academy, the defending Class A-AA champions who managed to find their way back to Murfreesboro with a thrilling, 3-2 shootout win over White House in the sectional match.
“It’s a whole lot harder to win one than to defend one,” said CPA coach Tom Gerlach, who won six state titles at CAK from 2003-10.
Four in a row? For the last three Spring Flings, the Class AAA state champions have come out of Williamson County, and there’s a strong possibility the county completes the four-peat this week.
Franklin, which has claimed the last two AAA titles, won’t be in the eight-team tournament field this time around, but fellow District 11-AAA schools Brentwood and Ravenwood will.
Brentwood, which edged Hendersonville 2-1 in Saturday’s sectional, is aiming for its first state title since 2012. Ravenwood, which downed Station Camp 1-0 on Saturday, will be gunning for its first-ever championship.
Twice as nice: Ravenwood opened its doors in 2002, and for the first time in the school’s relatively brief history, the Raptors are sending both their boys and girls teams to state.
Led by junior Steven Karl — the top-ranked boys player in the state — and sophomore Natalyn Jones on the girls side, both squads are looking to ride their hot season deep into the tournament.
Young talent: Clarksville freshman Sofia Phillips will be a player to watch in the Class AAA girls singles. She cruised through the 10-AAA regular season and tournaments as well as region individuals.
During team regionals last week she was leading Hendersonville senior ace Sarah Hall 6-2, 3-2 when the match was called (with Hendersonville claiming the necessary four wins). Hall, who reached the state singles tournament three straight years, is back at state in doubles (with partner Rae Gullett).
One to watch: Brentwood Academy junior George Patrick captured his first state championship a season ago, winning the long jump with a leap of 22 feet, 41/4 inches.
Making his third straight trip to state, Patrick had a strong showing at the Division II Middle Sectional, qualifying first in the long jump (23-1.25), the 110-meter hurdles (14.18) and the 300-meter hurdles (38.34) while landing second in the triple jump (46-05.75).
Fresh face: Taylor Cuneo has been making a name for herself all season, dominating the distance events at just about every meet.
On Wednesday, when the running event preliminaries begin at Dean A. Hayes Track & Soccer Stadium, the freshman will get her first taste of state competition.
Said Cuneo: “I’m just going to go in confident with a little bit of nerves, but I’m training hard. My teammates are pushing me all the time, so I’ll try my best.”
A safe bet: There are no guarantees in high school sports, but Gallatin senior Brett Neelly is close to a sure thing.
The two-time defending Class AAA discus champion qualified first at last week’s Section 3-AAA track sectional with a throw of 180 feet, 11 inches, which isn’t even close to his personal best.
The Kansas State signee made state record-setting throws of 189-1 and 190-2 this season.
When: Through Friday
Where: Events are held in Rutherford County and at Wilson Central High School
Admission: $10 per day
Parking: $5 per day