BASEBALL REGION SEMIFINALS
Monday (all times EDT)
• 3-AAA: 7-Cookeville (27-4-1) at Walker Valley (28-7-1); Soddy-Daisy (23-12) at Coffee County (20-17)
• 4-AA: 5:30-Livingston Academy (10-11) at Notre Dame (18-13); 7-Chattanooga Christian (15-9) at DeKalb County (20-6)
• 3-AA: 6-East Hamilton (27-8) at Sequoyah (22-6); 7-Polk County (21-11) at Red Bank (20-12)
• 3-A: 5-Marion County (12-16) at Boyd-Buchanan (26-9); 7-Grace Academy (14-14) at South Pittsburg (32-2).
Notre Dame is one of the oldest schools in the Chattanooga area, but Monday will bring a history-maker for the Fighting Irish.
For the first time in the school's history, the baseball team will host a region semifinal, and it will do so without leaving the campus. And it may have happened because of an apology.
The Irish went to Bledsoe County and lost, playing below the standard they and coach Drew Friedrich had set. He was so disgruntled that he ran the entire team the next day for much of the practice.
"I got to thinking about it afterwards. I knew some of the kids were mad at me," Friedrich said. "Running made me feel better, but what did it do for them? As a staff we apologized to them, and you could see a light go on."
Friedrich is big on character, intensity and 100 percent effort.
"If you talk about character, then the message has to come from the top down," he said.
"Running had made a lot of the guys mad," acknowledged Nick Chambers, a sophomore who set up daily practices during the dead period last year when coaches can have no contact with players. "After that meeting when he said everybody running was his mistake, the practice we had was maybe the best we've had."
The Irish went 7-23 in 2010. What they heard from the outset of 2011 was about bringing everything they had every day.
"You want to teach baseball, but we put a huge emphasis on character," Friedrich said. "Hitting was part of it, but that was small potatoes compared to our approach to the game."
The staff wasn't the only group that felt a team-oriented mindset was sadly lacking a year ago.
"There has been a big change in attitude," center fielder Sheldon Brogden said. "Last year it was more about individual batting averages. Guys are now playing for each other more than themselves. Everybody is giving 100 percent, and they're giving it for others rather than themselves."
Chambers said the players had made the jump from individuals to team members.
"At one point we had a four-game win streak and people started worrying again about individual stats. We went on a six-game losing streak," he said.
Included in that streak was a lopsided loss to Rhea County. But they refocused and the result was an unexpected run to the District 7-AA championship behind the likes of Brogden, Chambers, catcher Grayson Hargett and pitcher Patrick Ward, who threw a complete game to get the Irish to the championship game.
"These kids have rallied all year," Friedrich said. "Zac Swartout's sister passed away from a brain tumor, and the team rallied around him. Jack Noonan's father died, and the kids rallied around him. They're not perfect by any stretch, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they want to win baseball games and that they truly care about each other."
Monday's winners will advance to regional championships Wednesday and sectional games Friday. Wednesday's games will determine whether teams will host or travel on Friday.
n A definitive schedule for Baylor in the Division II playoffs has yet to be decided. The Red Raiders received a first-round bye and will host the St. Benedict/Pope John Paull II winner. If St. Benedict wins, the games likely will be played Friday and Saturday. But because of baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies at Pope John Paul II on Friday and Saturday, the schedule will have to be worked out if the Knights advance.