After down-to-the-wire regular-season races, Chattanooga-area high school baseball teams begin their seasons of no return this week.
The balanced 5-AAA district tournament is the first to get under way, starting Wednesday at Ooltewah. The rest begin by Saturday.
East Hamilton won the 5-AAA championship, but it wasn't until the fourth tiebreaker (record against other teams based on standings from three on down) that the Hurricanes were awarded the title over Bradley Central.
Central and Hixson tied for the 6-AA regular-season title after Central won the second game of a district finale. The Purple Pounders then were accorded the tournament's top seed based on run differential between the two.
In District 6-A, South Pittsburg finished 9-1, splitting its two-game series with Marion County and winning two from Whitwell. Marion finished second and Whitwell was third.
District 5-AAA standings, as always seems to be the case, were tied much of the season, and at one point Bradley, East Hamilton and Soddy-Daisy were locked in a three-way tie.
"We're excited to have won the league and we're excited about the tournament," said East Hamilton coach Steve Garland, whose team beat northwest Georgia power Ringgold this past weekend. "We're playing good baseball right now."
The question his Hurricanes face is whether their good will be good enough.
"The district is very balanced. Matchups are key -- opposing pitchers and styles of play. It should be a very good tournament," Garland said.
While Central won 6-AA's top seed, the Pounders have seen the debilitating side of being No. 1 going in. They won the regular season last year but weren't one of the district's two representatives in the region semifinals.
"If didn't matter to us if we were No. 1, No. 2 or No. 5," Central coach Glen Carter said. "We have to play three good games. If we do that, then we're moving on. "We have played two good games back to back but not three."
Red Bank is the No. 3 seed, and Central had its hands as full with the Lions as it did with Hixson.
"Both of those were 5-4 games and we went down to the wire before winning," Carter said. "They had runners on in the seventh in each game."
The 6-A tournament at Whitwell could also be highly competitive and not just among the host Tigers and their two county rivals, although South Pittsburg and Marion split their two-game series as did Marion and Whitwell, "and both of our games with Whitwell were close," South Pittsburg coach Wes Stone said.
The team carrying the dark horse label in the district is Lookout Valley, which struggled early.
"They lost some games early but he had a bunch of young guys, some of them injured, and they're growing up and getting healthy," Stone said.
Ooltewah plays Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy meets Walker Valley in 5-AAA's first-night games. Bradley and East Hamilton will begin play Thursday.
The 5-AA, 6-AA and 7-AA tournaments open Thursday and the 5-A tournament begins Saturday at two sites (Silverdale Baptist and Boyd-Buchanan). Sequoyah won 5-AA by a game over runner-up McMinn Central, Grundy County took 7-AA and Boyd-Buchanan won 5-A.
Also going on later this week is the three-game series between Baylor and McCallie. McCallie hosts on Thursday and Saturday and Baylor on Friday.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.