Spring Fling baseball: CPA gets first baseball title

CPA catcher Philip Clarke (3), right, and pitcher Devin McKnight (8) embrace and celebrate after beating Knoxville Catholic in the 2015 TSSAA Class AA State Baseball Championship Friday.

CPA catcher Philip Clarke (3), right, and pitcher Devin McKnight (8) embrace and celebrate after beating Knoxville Catholic in the 2015 TSSAA Class AA State Baseball Championship Friday.

Summertown's Tayler Landrum holds his head in the last inning during the championship game agaisnt Knox Grace Friday.

Summertown’s Tayler Landrum holds his head in the last inning during the championship game agaisnt Knox Grace Friday.

MURFREESBORO – Taylor Phillips scored the first run of the Class AA state baseball championship Friday afternoon, hitting a home run to left field in the third inning.

But the Christ Presbyterian Academy third baseman contributed in another way that wasn’t as obvious, having conversations with sophomore pitcher Devin McKnight when he got behind the count early in the game.

“Just have fun like you’ve been doing all year,” McKnight recalled Phillips saying.

McKnight did just that, allowing one run in seven innings as CPA beat Knoxville Catholic 2-1 to win its first state baseball championship.

The right-hander allowed two singles in the second inning and each runner moved into scoring position, but a groundout ended the inning. From then on, McKnight did not allow another hit and only three Knoxville Catholic batters reach base.

“He told me last night that I was going to come in and start today,” McKnight said of his coach. “I was really happy that he gave me that chance.”

It was only the fifth start of the year for McKnight, who often enters in relief and had not thrown a complete game all season. CPA coach Larry Nesbitt insisted he wasn’t surprised by the performance.

“It had nothing to do with technique. It had nothing to do with his pitches or anything,” Nesbitt said. “He went out to the mound, wanted the baseball and threw down. That’s it. He was a competitor.”

McKnight retired the last six batters he faced, making Knoxville Catholic a runner-up for the second year in a row.

“You kind of run on adrenaline, I think, at some point there, and he kind of sniffed it there in the sixth and seventh, and you could tell he thought it was his game,” Knoxville Catholic coach Adam Sullivan said.

Catholic answered Phillips’ homer with its own run in the third, as Adam Aucker was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on Dominic Souder’s flyout to center.

CPA went ahead for good in the fourth, as Sam Knell was hit by a pitch and later scored on Jacob Wester’s single to center. Sean Purcell then replaced starter Ethan Elliott, but CPA had the run it needed.

Knoxville Catholic catcher Kole Cottam threw out three CPA baserunners, and the Lions wasted another chance when an aggressive lead runner slipped in the top of the seventh as he rounded third.

But CPA survived those mistakes, finishing the year 32-10. Dozens of family members and friends bunched up near the third base gate to celebrate with the players as they left the field.

“These guys know that they’re loved by the Lord, their parents, this community and the team, and that’s what frees them up,” Nesbitt said. “Baseball’s really fun when you’re free like that all year.”

– Craig Thomas, Gannett Tennessee

MURFREESBORO – It was nearly a storybook ending for Summertown High’s baseball team in the Class A state championship at Reese Smith Jr. Field on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University on Friday.

But this storybook didn’t have a happy ending for the Eagles.

With the bases loaded and two out, a grounder to second base led to the final out and a Knoxville Grace 8-6 victory to give the Rams the first state championship in school history in any sport.

“I never thought we didn’t have a chance,” said Summertown head coach Jason Burleson. “There have been a number of games I could name off for you where we’d come back either with big hits or playing small ball, so I knew we had a chance.”

The first two batters for Summertown in the bottom of the seventh were out, Jacob Curtis hit an infield single to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Ty Riddle then hit a grounder to short, who sent the ball to first for the game-clinching out, but the throw was low. Grace’s first baseman couldn’t dig the throw up for the out, as the play brought the potential winning run to the plate.

Kendall Franks put the ball into play for the Eagles to load the bases on a grounder in which the second baseman had a hard time stretching toward second base to field it. He knocked it into the direction of the bag, where shortstop had come over to cover. He picked it up for what could’ve been the final out, but the field umpire called the runner safe to load the bases for the game-ending groundout to second.

The game was back-and-forth throughout. Ten of the game’s 14 runs were scored in the first inning and top of the second as Grace scored three in the top of the first, followed by Summertown’s five before Grace tied it with two more in the next inning. The early runs were aided by hindered defense and less-than-stellar starting pitching as both teams made a change on the mound in the first inning.

“We’ve been here before as a program, and they’ve been here a number of times too,” Burleson said. “I guess it could’ve been early game jitters, but I also know both teams had problems seeing the ball in the sun at times.

“We let a couple drop we normally wouldn’t because we lost them for a second.”

Burleson said he was proud of the way his team played throughout the season and went on a run to end the season and make it to the state title game.

“There were times this year when we wondered what kind of a team we had early on, but they kept playing and did a good job getting better as the season went along,” Burleson said. “We lost five seniors, but we have five juniors coming up, one sophomore and a bunch of freshmen.

“We’ve got a chance to get back here next year.”

Konner Ambrose and Drew Bailey each had a pair of RBI, and Franks and Timmy Beard each had one.

– Brandon Shields, Gannett Tennessee

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