In 2013, Silverdale Baptist Academy’s Seahawks reached the TSSAA Class A state championship baseball final.
A year later, Boyd-Buchanan, another team from District 5-A, appeared on the big stage at the 2014 Spring Fling in Murfreesboro.
While the Seahawks reached the title game where they lost 4-0 to Friendship Christian School, the Bucs won their opener this year, but fell in successive games against Jackson Christian – the eventual state champion – and Goodpasture and saw their season end.
With time to assess the team’s success and shortcomings, Bucs coach Josh Rider has come to the conclusion that Boyd-Buchanan is set up for another potential run at another state title in 2015.
“After being in the state tournament, I’ve learned that we had a good team, we did a good job throughout the season, our lineup was solid and the pitching was good,” Rider said Monday. “The thing that was kind of missing, once we got there, was that the teams that had been there before were used to the atmosphere.
“We were probably a little nervous.”
The Bucs routed Forrest, 11-1, in their Wednesday opener before losing to Jackson Christian, 6-1, on Wednesday and being eliminated later the same day with a 13-5 loss to Goodpasture.
“I noticed (the nervousness) in the first game, but Forrest helped us out by making some errors,” Rider said. “We weren’t throwing the ball well, but threw it well enough to get out of some jams.”
What’s perfectly clear to Rider is that pitching depth is a vital component for any team trying to win a state title over a grueling four-day grind.
Jackson Christian, which beat Goodpasture twice en route to the title game, had solid pitching and a mound ace – Matt Poteete – and that piece to the puzzle, Rider says, was the missing link for the Bucs.
Poteete threw a complete game, five-hitter in a 3-1 win over Goodpasture on May 20, striking out 11 and walking none.
Two days later Poteete picked up a save in a 4-3 win over Goodpasture with a seventh-inning appearance in which he hit a batter and struck out one to end the game.
The following day, Poteete recorded another complete-game win against Knoxville Grace as Jackson Christian won 8-2 to claim the state title. He gave up 11 hits, but only two runs and struck out five and walked none.
“Poteete is a senior and put the team on his back and they knew he was going to take care of business,” Rider said. “You have to have at least three pitchers and a horse you can go to a couple of times. That kid shut down Goodpasture in game one, closed the game on Thursday and threw the championship game.”
Rider had four pitchers he could call on in the state tourney.
Brandon Willingham threw the opener against Forrest and the sophomore responded with a three-hitter in the Bucs’ five-inning win over Forrest.
The next day Skyler Anderson pitched a solid game against Jackson Christian, which had nine hits and six runs – five were earned – in the 6-1 victory. Jackson Christian’s Hayden Crowe stopped the Bucs on three hits and one run.
In an elimination game against Goodpasture game a few hours later, Rider started junior John Sewell. Junior Josh Antwine relieved Sewell in the third and senior Jim Cardwell pitched the seventh.
The Cougars scored four runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings to turn the game into a blowout.
Who among the four top Bucs pitchers can be the team’s mound horse in 2015?
“Our top two pitchers – Brandon Willingham and Skyler Anderson – are extremely talented,” Rider said. “Brandon has the best arm on the team. Skyler’s deal is that he tried to be too good on the mound at state. Either one of those guys could be our main guy, but you can’t leave out Sewell and Antwine.
“No matter who takes that role next year, he has to be so mentally tough that nothing rattles him and wants the ball in the big games all the time.”
That’s a role that Silverdale’s Reid Clements filled in 2013.
“Exactly,” Rider said.
Clements, who missed his junior season after undergoing arm surgery, beat Rockwood, 5-1, on a five-hitter – he struck out 12 – and came back two days later to stop Decatur County Riverside, 6-2, on six hits and fanned 10 to put the Seahawks in the state championship game the next day.
Joey Szollosi started the title game and worked 5.2 innings, giving up eight hits and four runs, before giving way to reliever Spencer Mossburg to finish the game. Mossburg beat DCR, 2-1, to give the Seahawks two wins opening the tournament.
“A team that wins state needs a stud guy to put on the mound and shut down the other team,” Rider said.
The Bucs will drop the curtain on the 2014 season on June 9 with their annual banquet and continue preparation for next season.
Top award winners:
Nathan Murrell and Cardwell, both seniors, will be named Co-Most Valuable Players.
Murrell and freshman Cade Evans are the Co-Offensive Players of the Year and Evans is the Defensive MVP.
Anderson and Willingham share the Cy Young pitching award.
Evans, who led the team with a .500 batting average (second all-time for the Bucs), set a school single-season record with 55 hits, including a record 45 singles.
The Bucs hit a collective .362 on the season and Murrell and Cardwell batted .427 and .410, respectively. Hunter Payne was close behind at .396.
Murrell and Cardwell had 53 and 50 hits, respectively, and those efforts rank fourth and fifth on the records list.
Murrell set a record with 52 RBIs and came up one double shy of tying his own record with 16 doubles in a season. Cardwell scored a record 49 runs and his 33 stolen bases rank third on the school’s all-time record list.
Cardwell set a pitching record with five saves.
Willingham went 10-0 and set a record for wins in a season and his 17 strikeouts against Copper Basin set another mark. His 84 strikeouts rank second all-time and he posted a 1.56 ERA.
Anderson’s 73 strikeouts are eighth on the record list and his 1.45 ERA ranks sixth all-time.
Team-wise, the Bucs set records with 29 wins and a 16-game winning streak.
Rider said 10 of his 15 returning players will be playing summer ball and that’s a critical part of the Bucs’ continued success on the diamond.
“The guys who really want to play at the next level play summer ball,” Rider said. “We used to do team stuff, but the competition on select or travel teams is a lot better. That makes all the difference in the world and one of the reasons Cade Evans is so good – other than having talent – is that he plays 100 games a year.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)