published Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Three Chattanooga area teams begin state baseball play

Spring Fling 2014 May 21-25, 2014 Murfeesboro, TN

TSSAA STATE TOURNAMENT

Today

Class A at Middle Tennessee Christian

• Forrest vs. Boyd-Buchanan (28-9), 5

Division II-AA at Wilson Central

• Christian Brothers vs. McCallie, 5

• Baylor vs. Memphis Unv. School, 7:30

Boyd-Buchanan has Buzz, Baylor has the lucky charm of Eddie Etter and McCallie has its on-the-bus name game.

"I don't know of any superstitions or any pregame rituals our guys have," McCallie coach Greg Payne said. "I tend to stay away from the guys in that situation. If we have a rally monkey or anything like that, I don't know about it."

For sure, though, the Blue Tornado will play their traditional baseball name game today when they depart for the baseball portion of the Spring Fling in Murfreesboro. Baylor will join them in Division II-AA, and Boyd-Buchanan in Class A is the lone area Division I representative.

Eddie Etter, the wife of Baylor coach Gene Etter, one year found a lucky rock outside a baseball field, and the Red Raiders carried it to a state title. This year she began wearing a necklace sporting replicas of the school's two state baseball championship rings, and Baylor has since gone on a late-season tear.

"I started wearing it two weeks ago and haven't taken it off," she said.

The Red Raiders have since won two playoff series -- against Ensworth and Pope John Paul II -- to earn their spot in the final four.

And then there's the Buccaneers' Buzz, a white rat that has a place of prominence in the team's dugout.

"I don't know what we're going to do about Buzz. There's a state rule that says no pets, and we can't keep him at the motel, either," Boyd-Buchanan coach Josh Rider said. "We're sort of just roll with the rat and see what we can work out. Whatever happens happens."

There was a dog that began to follow the Buccaneers around back at the Lookout Valley tournament, and coaches and players alike knew they couldn't very well have a dog as a mascot.

"The next thing I know we've got a rat in our dugout," Rider said.

The Bucs started the season 2-7 and are now riding a 15-game win streak with 24 wins in their last 25 games.

The rat wasn't there for all of those, but good pitching was, including Skyler Anderson (8-2) and Brannon Willingham (9-0), and so much depends on pitching in a four-team double-elimination tournament in which the winner advances to a winner-take-all championship Friday.

"We feel like we're five-deep as far as starters go. You have to have good pitching or you're probably two [games] and done," Rider said.

The other Bucs starters are John Sewell, Josh Antwine and Nathan Murrell with center fielder Jim Cardwell serving as the closer.

Of most importance, McCallie's Payne believes, is to win the first game--in the Blue Tornado's case, an opener with pre-tournament favorite Christian Brothers.

"You lose that first one and you eat up your pitching in the losers bracket. That's one extra game," he said.

Good fortune and pitching have gone hand in hand for Baylor, with freshmen Wilson Maclellan (4-0) and Gavin Roberson (4-2) developing in time to help out senior Andrew Belcher (4-1).

"It's amazing. They have performed above expectations, especially early expectations," Coach Etter said.

Then when asked where Baylor would be without them, he laughed and responded, "I don't even want to think about it."

But beyond pitching and swinging the bats, Etter believes strongly in the just-another-game attitude when a team gets this far.

"You don't want to let the hoopla overwhelm you," he said. "Just try to play the game."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.

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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