Baseball for decades at Tyner was an afterthought, even a walkover for district opponents.
This year, though, the Rams finished third in District 6-AA, splitting games with eventual regular-season winner Central and tournament champion Hixson.
It all falls on a group of seniors who decided four years ago as middle school students that it was time for a change in the school's sports culture. They didn't want to undermine football or the school's other traditional showcase sports, but rather return baseball to a status the others had maintained.
While they didn't make it out of the district tournament, they have gained opponents' long-lost respect, and one of the strong reasons was Chae Butler.
"It's more that it was, which was losing most of the games. We decided to stay together in middle school and change the culture here," the senior pitcher said. "I used to be around kids that loved the game and then stopped because they didn't see any progress. We wanted to keep kids off the street and to show people that's not who you have to be."
When he arrived at Tyner two years ago to take over the program from Mike Davis, coach Rob Flowers asked Butler what he wanted from baseball.
"He said his goals were to change the culture, and he led the charge," Flowers said. "He was never a vocal leader but he led the charge, grinding it out for four years."
As a byproduct of the concerted effort, Butler is headed to Kentucky State, the same school his father attended, on a baseball scholarship.
"I don't know when the last time was that coaches were calling wanting to know when or if a [Tyner baseball] player was going to sign," Flowers said.
And Tyner athletic director Wayne Turner, who has been at the school since 1991, couldn't recall the Rams having a baseball player sign a college scholarship during that time.
Among the other schools that sought out Butler were Alabama A&M, Western Kentucky and Morehouse.
"I told him when he asked to go with the folks that most wanted him, and he felt that was Kentucky State," Flowers said. "He was their No. 2 prospect overall and their No. 1 pitching prospect."
Butler ended up with a 7-2 record, including a 3-0 shutout of Baylor. He struck out 88 in a little more than 62 innings and posted a 1.34 earned run average.
TONIGHT'S REGION FINALS
Region 3-AAA championship
• Soddy-Daisy (21-16) at Cookeville (28-9), 7
Region 3-AA championship
• Sequoyah (22-6) at Hixson (22-11), 7
Region 3-A championship
• Boyd-Buchanan (26-9) at South Pittsburg (24-10), 7:30
Five Chattanooga-area teams advanced to TSSAA Division I region championship games today. Hixson hosts Sequoyah in 3-AA at 7 p.m., Soddy-Daisy plays out of the area at Cookeville at 7 in 3-AAA and Boyd-Buchanan plays at South Pittsburg at 7:30 EDT in 3-A.
All region finalists advance to Friday's sectionals with today's winners hosting and the losers traveling.
Tornado open Thursday
After receiving a first-round bye in the Division II-AA playoffs, McCallie will be in Memphis to play Briarcrest. The Blue Tornado will play a doubleheader Thursday with an "if necessary" game Friday. The schools had to appeal to the TSSAA to play on Thursday. Briarcrest has graduation on Saturday, and McCallie's is Sunday.
Baylor will play at Pope John Paul II on Friday with an "if" game Saturday afternoon. The Red Raiders, who will open the series at 7 p.m., swept Ensworth last week.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
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 ...