In the stroke of a single day, Bledsoe County went from being in position for its first district baseball championship in more than two decades to hosting a District 7-AA playoff game Thursday afternoon.
It was that tight in 7-AA, which was won on the last night of district play by Signal Mountain.
"Bledsoe beat us on that Monday night, and if they'd beaten us the next day they'd have been first," Signal coach Bumper Reese said. "Looking back, this is the most competitive district season I've ever been involved with."
Reese was a longtime coach at Red Bank and endured his share of rivalry games with Soddy-Daisy, Central, East Hamilton, Hixson and Rhea County.
Red Bank is the District 6-AA tournament defending champion, and the Lions proved a year ago what a streak can do. They lost 13 in a row but upset East Hamilton and wound up playing their way into the state final eight in Murfreesboro.
"East Hamilton was something like 30-4 and Red Bank was probably 12 or 13 games below .500," Reese said. "East Hamilton was one of the best teams in the state and wound up having a bad two days."
It seems to happen every season at some point in at least one of the six area districts.
"I guess that's why they say that's why you play," said South Pittsburg coach Wesley Stone, whose Pirates are the top seed and hosts for the District 6-A tournament that begins Friday.
While most teams expect Ooltewah to be one of the teams advancing from District 5-AAA to region semifinals, the district's other region representative is definitely up for grabs.
The 5-AAA teams begin unraveling that mystery this afternoon at Soddy-Daisy.
"The tournament is probably more favorable for Ooltewah with that first-round bye and a lot of pitching," host coach Jared Hensley said.
Ooltewah posted a 10-2 record to win the regular-season championship, splitting two-game series with Walker Valley and Bradley Central.
"It's been more balanced. If you look at records and scores and who's beaten whom, you can justify saying there could be some sleepers," Hensley added.
While Walker Valley finished second, partly on the strength of its first-ever two-game sweep of Bradley, the Mustangs were swept by Cleveland, which in turn was swept by Bradley. The Bears actually swept every district opponent except Walker Valley and eventual winner Ooltewah.
"It could be about parity," Bradley coach Travis Adams said. "A lot of our games were close."
He could have been talking about his own 5-AAA, District 7-AA or even District 6-AA.
"It's much more balanced than last year," East Hamilton coach Steve Garland said. "We had a come-from-behind win against Hixson and tough games with Tyner, and we had to rally to beat Red Bank. Central had to beat us in the bottom of the seven and Central and Red Bank went extra innings in their first game, and Hixson beat Red Bank for the first time since this particular district alignment was put in place four years ago.
"It's incredibly balanced, but you look at it in another sense, Central was 14-0. They had close games but they ran the table."
Hensley mentioned Red Bank's run a year ago in a general discussion of postseason play.
"Somebody always starts playing a little tougher after getting that first win," he said. "They get that excitement of the postseason and guys start making plays and getting hits. This time of year so much is about momentum."
The TSSAA baseball postseason
Begins today at Soddy-Daisy
Begins Thursday with single-elimination games at Chattanooga Christian and Bledsoe County.
Begins Thursday at Hixson
Begins Thursday with single-elimination game at McMinn Central.
Begins Friday at South Pittsburg.
Begins Thursday with single-elimination game between Copper Basin and Grace Academy.
Division II East/Middle
Still in regular season; Baylor and McCallie have three-game series this weekend against Battle Ground Academy and Father Ryan, respectively.
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 ...