As I spoke to Red Bank head coach Tyler Phillips about his group of seniors, the one word that came up over and over was leadership. Not just leadership on the field, but off it as well, as the first-year head coach lauded their work ethic and how far he knows that will take them in the future.
The Red Bank baseball team opened their season last week with a double-header sweep of visiting Tyner, winning the first game 15-0 before taking the second in dramatic fashion, 10-9 in extra innings. The Lions are led by four seniors: Madox Wilkey, Eli Masengale, Gabe Jones, and Caden Cline.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys or better group of players to set the foundation for this program moving forward,” Phillips said about his seniors.
In 2019, the Lions finished 12-18 overall, but fourth in District 6-2A with an 8-6 district record.
They upset Central in the district tournament to get to the finals of the losers’ bracket before losing to Hixson in the following game, falling one win shy of a berth in the region playoffs.
Madox Wilkey: Pitcher/Center Field
Wilkey has spent four years in the Lions’ baseball program, and was also the starting quarterback on the football team. According to Phillips, he has several college programs interested in him in both sports, but has not made up his mind what direction he would like to go at this time. He has earned the respect of his coach and teammates as a leader, and is the Lions’ top starting pitcher.
“Madox’s leadership qualities are through the roof; guys on our team look to him,” Phillips said. “He has been taking groups of guys and holding team practices without coaches, sometimes on the weekends in the cages hitting on their own. He’s a kid that no matter where the game of football or baseball take him, he’s going to go do great things in athletics or whatever he chooses as a career.”
Wilkey had a .434 batting average in his junior year with one homerun, 31 RBIs, 22 runs scored, and ten stolen bases. He also went 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA on the mound, while striking out 77 batters in 45 innings pitched.
Wilkey went 4-for-5 with a double, triple, two RBIs, and two runs scored in the doubleheader sweep of Tyner. He also picked up the win in game one, striking out seven while giving up just one hit and two walks in the four-inning victory.
Eli Massengale: Catcher
Massengale has also played baseball for four years at Red Bank, and was lauded by Phillips for his character. As the signal caller, Massengale called his own game behind the dish during his junior season and during the start of this year. With a high baseball IQ, he has earned the trust of his coaches and pitching staff when it comes to being in control of what is happening between the mound and the plate.
“Eli is irreplacable, and is going to leave a mark on this program that nobody else is going to be able to leave,” said Phillips, who worked specifically with the catchers last season. “His leadership ability to take a team and steer them in the right direction is every coach’s dream. He does what is best for the team without complaining and without second-guessing. He comes from a different type of cut when it comes to baseball players.”
Massengale had a .439 batting average with 20 RBIs, 25 runs scored, and six stolen bases as a junior. Behind the plate, he also threw out 17 of the 56 runners that attempted to steal for a 30 percent caught stealing percentage, which is right around the Major League Baseball average for 2019.
Gabe Jones: Pitcher/Second Base/Shortstop
Another four-year player at Red Bank, Jones is described as a man of few words. But it is that easy-going, anxiety-free personality that gives the Lions exactly what they need.
“Gabe has such a calm demeanor, one of the most reassuring people you’ll find on the baseball field,” Phillips said. “He might not have a lot to say, but if you ask him to do something he’s not going to question you; he’ll just do it. While guys like Wilkey and Massengale give us the leadership we need, Gabe brings a sense of calm because of how he carries himself, especially on the mound, where he just started pitching last year. When he’s on the mound, the defense never worries because he never gets stressed.”
Jones had a .232 batting average with 14 RBIs, 11 runs scored, and eight stolen bases as a junior. He also had a record of 2-4 with 20 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched.
Jones was also Leo the Lion for the football team, and Phillips said the senior has met with UTC about the possibility of being its mascot, Scrappy.
Cline is in his first year playing baseball for the Lions, but he has excelled at sports throughout his prep career. He finished third in the 170-pound weight class at the state wrestling tournament just over a month ago, and also played football.
Cline is the son of Red Bank athletic director and softball coach Mandi Munn.
“I’ve really been pushing for Caden to come out, because I know he can play the game of baseball,” said Phillips. “He’s just a pure athlete and has great leadership ability, and my goal is to get as many guys like that out there as I can. I know he’d been wanting to play, so I was glad to get him out there as soon as wrestling was over.”
The Chattanoogan Senior Spotlight series highlights local prep seniors whose seasons have been put on hold due to the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are associated with a high school spring sports team and would like your seniors featured, please encourage the coach to reach out to me at email@example.com. Also share this article and others like it from this series on social media using #ChattanooganSeniorSpotlight.