TEAMS TO WATCH
Soddy-Daisy: Star outfielder Talon Harris was lost for the season after an automobile accident, but the Trojans still have plenty of quality players, including Dalton Rogers.
South Pittsburg: Seven of the Pirates return from a 2010-11 team that made a run at a stitle title. Included are Jacob Toney, Matt and Michael Allen and Jake Stone.
East Hamilton: Coaches who returned questionnaires picked the Hurricanes to win District 6-AA because of the coaching (Steve Garland) and the talent (headed by Patrick Parris).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Patrick Parris, East Hamilton: He'll be relied on heavily on the mound and at the plate after striking out 44 in 35 innings and hitting .458 in 2011.
T.J. Binder, Ooltewah: While he may catch or play first next year at Troy University, he'll play primarily at third for the Owls and will be in the center of their batting order.
Chris Caffrey, Walker Valley: He'll play mostly third base and obviously will be a high-average hitter, but he could also pitch in relief situations, perhaps even as the Mustangs' closer.
Pitcher Clayton Parker carries unbeaten status into his senior baseball season at Boyd-Buchanan.
It is part good luck and part misfortune but mostly it is talent, and that's what earned him a scholarship from the University of Alabama.
The right-hander has a 14-0 record over three years in just 72 innings. In that injury-plagued span he has allowed just six earned runs -- an ERA of 0.58 -- with 116 strikeouts against just 22 walks.
"He doesn't have a ton of innings, primarily because he's had some crazy injuries," Buccaneers coach Josh Rider said. "He dislocated his elbow his sophomore year and last year hurt his knee; plus when he was a sophomore we had five or six senior and junior pitchers. But there's no doubt he's going to be on the mound for game one and probably the first game of each of our district (5-A) series."
In his first district tournament game in 2010, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder suffered the dislocated elbow during a collision while he was playing first bases. In 2011 he hit the ground at first while trying to get back and injured his knee.
"Both of those were freak injuries," Parker replied when asked if Alabama was taking a chance. "I have never had any problems from pitching."
Rider believes Parker has something special as a pitcher.
"I've seen him pitch since he was a freshman. He's a good player, a great kid and he's at the top of his class academically," the coach said. "He hasn't yet tapped into his potential. By the time he's finished at Alabama he should be pitching in the 90s [mph]."
His good pitching health comes in part because of Clay Parker, Clayton's father and the Bucs' pitching coach. Clay recovered from a college shoulder injury and went on to a big-league career with Seattle, the New York Yankees and Detroit.
"His dad is good about not overworking anybody," Rider said.
The younger Parker goes against the grain of most scholarship-seeking baseball players in that he does not play for fall or summer-league teams.
"I played organized rec ball and even before that I was around baseball all the time. Even when I'm not out here with the team, I'm throwing at home," said Parker, who spends as much time studying and playing the piano as he does throwing a baseball.
He almost always has an expert watching -- his dad.
"His knowledge of the game is incredible, and he knows so much about my mechanics," Clayton said. "Even watching games on TV he can point out what makes the good pitchers so good. We disagree but it always works out because of how much he knows."
Parker has his eyes on much more than an undefeated high school career. When he isn't pitching he's likely to play first base or the outfield because there is a common thread running through the Bucs.
"We hold ourselves to a high standard, and we want to play for it all," he said.
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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