On the Mark

McGill prevails in battle of aces

Photo with no caption
By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Chicks still dig the long ball.

Oh, but a tall right-hander with a sweet changeup is nothing to sneeze at.

Andrew Clabough deposited a Bryce Brentz offering in the eighth into the parking lot behind the left field fence Monday, his walk-off, grand-slam home run lifting William Blount to a come-from-behind, 5-3 win over District 4AAA frontrunner South-Doyle.

"Gosh!" Clabough said. "That looked like a big pop fly, but it kept going."

Clabough’s dramatic shot came half an inning after Brentz had given the Cherokees (8-3, 5-1) a three-run lead with a dinger in the South-Doyle eighth.

The late-game fireworks from both teams withstanding, it was a pitchers’ duel the previous seven innings that was much of the storyline. South-Doyle senior Ryan Holland is one of the nation’s most coveted prospects. Evidenced by a phalanx of radar-gun-equipped professional scouts behind home plate, the big, burly left-hander may never pitch a day in college.

Hitting 90 mph on some of his throws, Holland was the guy the scouts came to see. William Blount senior Mark McGill made sure he wasn’t the only one they left thinking about.

"I think it showed him (McGill) with the game he has he can be just as effective as a guy with overpowering stuff," said William Blount coach Charlie Puleo, a former major league pitcher himself.

Inning for inning, McGill was every bit the master as his much-touted counterpart. The Cherokees would touch the 6-foot-2 right-hander for three hits through seven complete, South-Doyle’s best threat to break through coming with runners at second and third with one out in the third.

Tyler Burstrom fielded a smash down the third base line, looked back at the runner, then fired to first for out two, with McGill inducing a fly ball to left a batter later to leave the inning unscathed.

McGill, with command of three pitches — fastball, curveball, changeup — struck out seven and walked one in shutting out the Cherokees. The crafty Governor worked to one more than the minimum over his last three innings, fanning his last batter.

The matchup with Holland had a lot to do with it, McGill said.

"It just motivated me to be better," he said. "I knew I had to throw better pitches, throw strikes. I think we play better when we play against a team that is just as good or better."

It was just the outing Puleo was hoping for.

"If Mark is throwing strikes, his pitches are just as good," he said. "He’s made some big pitches in tough situations."

Holland more than held up his end, retiring 15 Governors by strikeout in a dominant display of power pitching. Aaron Garland led off the William Blount first with a single to left. Only two others would reach in Holland’s seven innings — Clabough, hit by a pitch in the first, and Garland, on a two-out walk in the Governor third.

That McGill (1-0) would leave without the decision is nothing new this season, Puleo said. It’s also not cause for alarm.

"He should be 5-0," Puleo said. "He’s pitched well enough to win all five of his starts."

McGill has surrendered 25 hits to go with 34 strikeouts in 30 innings of work this season, compiling a 2.50 earned run average. Few high school pitchers can equal the sheer velocity Holland can attain with his fastball, Puleo said. Few as well, he added, have the command McGill has with his changeup.

"He’s way ahead because of the feel he has for his off-speed stuff," Puleo said. "At this level, it’s more effective. Kids are more geared up for the fastball. When you can throw a 3-2 change, a 3-2 curve for a strike, I don’t care who you are. It’s tough to handle. That’s what makes him so effective."

The Governors (8-3, 3-2) committed only one error in support of their ace. When McGill needed a big play from his defense, he got it.

"We had the Bearden game (leading 5-2 in the sixth)," Burstrom said. "We just wanted to get Mark that win (Monday). He’s throwing great."

Burstrom kept a wicked smash on the infield with no one aboard in the South-Doyle second, helping McGill cruise through the inning three up, three down. Catcher Logan Goodin stayed with a high foul ball at the backstop netting for the first out in the Cherokee fourth, runners at first and second.

With Garland on in relief of McGill to start the eighth, Brentz connected on a one-out, three-run job to left for a 3-0 lead. Burstrom walked quickly from third to the mound for an impromptu conference with his classmate.

"I said get in there and get the next two outs," Burstrom said. "Just get us in the dugout."

Garland regrouped, striking out the inning’s last two batters to limit the damage. Half an inning later, William Blount turned the tables.

Corey Endsley got things started with a lead-off walk. Michael Cunningham followed and singled him to second.

Garland then singled to load the bases on one out, with Burstrom punching a single through the right side a batter later to collect Endsley. One batter later, Clabough went opposite field with an outside pitch from Brentz for a big, early-season victory.

"At the beginning of the year, we struggled," Clabough said. "This was a big jump for us."

It doesn’t get any easier from here, Puleo said.

"Who knows?" he said. "The way I look at it is I want to get Burstrom, McGill and Garland to be the best pitchers they can be by the end of the season. My goal has always been to be in the top four (entering postseason). As far as high school games go, the big games are at the end of the year."

McGill/Holland II would be worth the price of admission.

District 4AAA baseball standings
Team District Overall
South-Doyle 5-1 8-3
Bearden 5-2 12-6
Farragut 5-2 8-3
Wm Blount 3-2 8-3
Maryville 3-3 5-4
Heritage 2-2 2-9
Sevier Co. 2-6 4-7
Lenoir City 0-5 8-5

District 3AA baseball standings

Team District Overall
Gibbs 6-0 8-2
Seymour 4-0 10-2
Fulton 2-2 4-2
Carter 1-2 8-4
Alcoa 0-5 3-10
Austin-East 0-5 0-9

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