Scrappy Moore coach finalists all state champions

Scrappy Moore coach finalists all state champions

June 10th, 2019 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Preps

Baylor head coach Kelli Smith talks with the umpire as Sophie Piskos (23) stands in the batter's box. GPS faced Baylor in the semifinals of the TSSAA Division II Class AA State Girls's softball tournament at McKnight Fields on May 22, 2019.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

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Winning a state championship wasn't a prerequisite for being a finalist for this year's Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year, but it certainly helped. All six finalists guided their respective teams to state titles, some even repeating the feat.

The six are Whitwell's Randall Boldin, Dalton's Matt Cheaves, Heritage's Tanner Moore, Baylor's Ben Nelson, Bradley Central's Jason Reuter and Baylor's Kelli Smith.

The 2019 Best of Preps banquet is set for Tuesday night at the Chattanooga Convention Center, with doors opening at 6.

In only his second season as Whitwell's football coach, Boldin guided the program to its first unbeaten season (15-0) and first state championship. The Tigers set several school records along the way to winning the Class 1A title, including most points scored. Whitwell rallied late in each of its final three playoff wins, beating rival South Pittsburg in double overtime, kicking a field goal with just seconds remaining to beat 2017 state champion Greenback in the semifinals, then scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of the title game before holding off a desperation drive by Cornersville in the finals seconds for a 7-6 win.

"Our kids were playing for way more than just themselves and knew the game was much bigger than just them," Boldin said. "The last three weeks in general will be what I'll always remember, just the way our kids fought and the adversity they overcame."

In his 25th season, Cheaves guided the soccer Catamounts to a 23-0 record, their fifth Georgia state championship and the distinction of being named the best prep team in the country. Recent graduate Omar Hernandez is the reigning Gatorade national player of the year and now a two-time Gatorade state honoree.

Moore led a senior-heavy softball team to the program's first state championship, as the Generals went undefeated in the postseason to earn Georgia's Class AAAA title with a comeback 5-4 win over Northside-Columbus.

"Nothing really changed. Some breaks just happened for us, and the girls trusted in their ability," Moore said. "We came back twice from two-run deficits in the championship game. The girls just kept fighting, and this happened to be the year to break through."

In his ninth season as Baylor's wrestling coach, Nelson guided the team to both the Division II traditional and duals state championships. The Red Raiders tied a program record with six wrestlers earning state titles in the traditional tournament, and the team finished with a 19-0 duals record.

Reuter led Bradley Central to its first Class AAA girls' basketball state championship since 1976, ending the season on a 15-game winning streak for a 34-3 overall record. One year after the graduation of the state's Miss Basketball award winner, Rhyne Howard — who went on to become the NCAA's national freshman of the year at Kentucky — Reuter's team had to rally in all three state-tournament games. That included scoring in the final seconds of the semifinal against Oak Ridge to force overtime, then getting a 3-pointer at the buzzer from senior Hannah Lombard for a 46-44 championship win. In nine seasons, Reuter's career record is 267-32.

Smith led Baylor's softball program to a 42-3 overall record and its fifth consecutive Division II-AA state title. Despite having six new starters this season, the Lady Red Raiders claimed their eighth crown in the past nine years. Smith has been part of all 13 titles won by Baylor — 11 as coach and two as a player.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.