DUNLAP, Tenn. — On a Saturday afternoon when plenty of athletic venues around the country were quiet and empty due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, high school baseball players for Sequatchie County and Whitwell enjoyed America's national pastime in the form of a doubleheader.
Sequatchie's Griffin Hall savored the moment rounding the bases after hitting his first varsity home run. The junior and his teammates hope they don't have to stop playing a sport they love any time soon.
"It was great to be playing today," Hall said. "Everything has been a little different lately, but today was a great day and I enjoyed playing with my teammates. We have dreams of winning a state championship this season, and we all are excited because of the way we finished last year."
The Indians went 28-12-1 in 2019, when they finished third in the TSSAA Class AA state tournament. Although some key members of that team were seniors, Sequatchie opened a new season by sweeping the visiting Tigers in the pair of five-inning games, 12-0 and 5-0.
Leadoff batter Ethan Seals totaled four hits in the doubleheader, and returning ace Austin Mitchell struck out four batters in two innings and drove in two runs in the opener, when he combined with winning pitcher Bodie Terry to hold the Tigers hitless.
Although Hamilton County schools are closed through March 30 with spring sports also suspended during that time, school systems in Marion County — which includes Whitwell — and Sequatchie County have not stopped classes or athletics.
Players did not talk about the coronavirus Saturday at the ballpark, with the noise from the dugout and what happened on the field like any other game.
"I feel like it's the same with all players. Whether or not you are a senior, you want to play and not have the season shortened or suspended," said Mitchell, who has signed with Roane State. "We all love the game and just want to keep playing and gunning for a state championship."
Whitwell's only two seniors are Braden Condra and Thomas Ridge.
"They are two of my top leaders and have played for four years," first-year coach Junior Atterton said. "I told them we can only control what we can. We are going to go to work every day until they tell us we can't. This is supposed to be one of the best times for those guys."
The TSSAA released a statement Friday that provided hope for the Spring Fling, which includes state tournaments for baseball, saying missing part of the regular season would not be enough to keep the annual event in Murfreesboro from happening. However, not having enough playing time to determine state qualifiers would be a different scenario.
Last season, in the Indians' first trip to state since 1996, they came within a win of reaching the title game. After losing to Loudon in 12 innings in the first round, they survived two close elimination games the next day, including 6-5 over Loudon.
With dreams of another deep postseason run, the Indians hope they get the chance to try.
"The game of baseball is so important to these guys and our community," Sequatchie coach Derrin Easterly said. "Baseball gives these guys something to look forward to every day. I was out on the field working this past Sunday, and throughout the day pretty much the whole team came voluntarily and was working on their own.
"They love it, and it's important to them to play."