published Friday, April 15th, 2011

Many coaches reluctant to call one pitcher an ‘ace’

There are seasons when there’s no question about a baseball team’s pitching ace, such as Cole Brand last year at Bradley Central.

Junior Matthew Crownover, long committed to Clemson, is a clear No. 1 for Ringgold, although senior Colton Cross and junior Corey Kafka could be aces on other teams and are undefeated for coach Brent Tucker.

For the most part, however, today’s high school coaches are reluctant to name a No. 1 pitcher. In Tennessee, district games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays, but rare is the coach who’ll say he has a No. 1 and a No. 2 — his Monday and Tuesday starters.

There was no question that Brand was going to get the big-game call from Bradley coach Travis Adams a year ago, and Brand now is in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system.

“In the two-game series, there was no question that he was going to throw. I had a pretty good grasp on it last year,” said Adams, a head coach at Coffee County before going home to Bradley. “Cole’s the only one we have had that was a power pitcher that you knew wasn’t going to get hit very much.”

A pitcher’s staff status certainly can change, but the Tennessee prep season is quite short. Official workouts start in mid-February and the season opens in mid-March.

“It’s crammed together,” Adams said. “You are quite often getting kids from other sports, and you have to get them in [baseball] shape. It is often quite cold in March and sometimes in April, and situations can change as the year goes on.”

Steve Garland has had his share of standout pitchers, including B.J. Church at Soddy-Daisy, which also has had the likes of David Mead, a former No. 1 draft pick, and Jamie Tricoglou, now the Trojans’ pitching coach.

Putting together a baseball program at fledgling East Hamilton, Garland has two quality pitchers in Hayden Williams, a former area strikeout leader when at David Brainerd, and Patrick Parris. Williams is 3-2 to date, Parris 5-0.

“It’s tricky territory when you start talking about a No. 1 and a No. 2,” Garland said. “You really want to develop a mindset that anybody could be the No. 1. Realistically, every coach has to pick a guy to pitch that first [district series] game, but sometimes you pick it more on matchups and the guy you pick isn’t necessarily the one with the best arm.

“I have never subscribed to the mindset that you have two pitchers, pitcher A and pitcher B. Any time you can get that sophomore and that freshman quality varsity innings, it can only help down the road.”

There also is the home-vs.-road philosophy. University of Tennessee signee Brandon Zajac hadn’t pitched on the road until last Monday at Soddy-Daisy, when he got a save for Walker Valley with a seventh-inning appearance.

“We have tried to go the comfortable route,” Walker Valley coach Joe Shamblin said. “Our other [main] guy, Houston Spencer, seems to be more comfortable on the road, but we’re not afraid to put either one of those guys out there.”

Signal Mountain coach Bumper Reese has designated his top two pitchers — sophomore Reese Phillips and junior Will Queen — but he also has Sam Boyette, who earlier this year picked up two wins in two nights, and Reese’s son Braxton, who had a complete-game victory earlier in the year.

Reese had an ace in Allan Walden, who’s currently at Chattanooga State, and Walden was the Lions’ clear No. 1 until a shoulder injury early in his senior season.

“I don’t know that he cared, but he probably preferred to throw at home,” Reese said. “Sometimes with the Monday-Tuesday guys it’s a mental thing. One might hate pitching on a certain mound, so we might swap.”

McMinn Central is a contrast. Coach Travis Hart knows he’s going to throw Scott Moses, a Belmont signee, for the first district game each week.

“I don’t care if it’s on the road or not because I want to get my team off to the best start,” Hart said.

Pitcher selection is anything but exact science.

“We go more by situation. It might depend on how a kid has performed in the past, and if he’s thrown 100-plus pitches the week before on a Monday we might hold him the next week until Tuesday,” Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox said.

Soddy-Daisy coach Jared Hensley, a former Trojans hurler, has something of a unique approach. He has nine players who do nothing but pitch, although he occasionally will fill in with position players. He has starters and relievers, and Ryan Johnson is the closer.

He was on a staff that included Mead and Tricoglou but might have been considered the Trojans’ No. 1 pitcher.

“When I was a junior, Tricoglou was head-and-shoulders the No. 1. I guess I might have been No. 1 my senior year. I was a slow-throwing lefty with pretty good off-speed stuff, but Mead was three and Greg Vandergriff was pretty good too,” he said.

Hensley said an outsider looking in at the 2011 Trojans might perceive Haydn Bailey to be the team’s No. 1 and Brad Dotson the No. 2.

“Bottom line in baseball is that your ace is the guy you’ve got on the mound that day,” he said.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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