The weather was in a totally cooperative mood.
With temperatures in the 70s, the baseball and softball teams at Blount County’s four high schools ran smack dab into a picture postcard afternoon for opening day 2009 on Monday.
Highlighted by the ninth-inning heroics of Maryville High freshman Bry Blanco, coupled with a stunning, last-at-bat rally by the school’s baseball team, the games kept pace. Blanco’s clutch, extra-inning single pushed across the lone run as the Lady Rebels opened 2009 with a 1-0 win over rival Heritage at Sandy Springs on Monday.
“Good game,” Maryville coach Ken Hawkins said. “Oh, my gosh! What a good game.”
The theme would only kick into high gear later in the day at Maryville College.
The Rebel baseball team was down six runs in its last at bat until a wild rally upended the Heritage Mountaineers, 13-12, to launch the spring campaign. Heritage sophomore Justin Teffeteller would connect for the county’s only home run on opening day in the contest.
Continuing a theme that would spill over into Tuesday, the Alcoa Lady Tornado softball team fell in a 1-0 decision to South-Doyle on Monday. Webb would edge the Lady Tornadoes, 4-3, on Tuesday, with the Alcoa baseball team opening with a 2-0 loss to the Spartans later in the day.
There were new uniforms.
The Lady Rebels, who got a 15-strikeout, two-hit gem from right-hander Chancli Connatser, took the field in the team’s new, black Nike gear. They’ve got the red ones, too. And the shorts.
Equally slicked out were Alcoa’s Tornadoes and Lady Tornadoes, who put on display their new spring wear from Under Armour.
The Lady Rebels/Lady Mountaineers thriller takes top honors as Day 1’s best. Maryville is a powerful club this season. Hawkins’ team not only has the hard-throwing Connatser in the pitching circle, but the Lady Rebels also have staff ace Brittany Monday, a Tennessee Wesleyan signee, as their primary option.
Third baseman Bailie Roberts is a Division I basketball signee with Southeast Missouri State. Catcher Camille Olvey has signed with Milligan. Roberts finished with a trio of hits, including a double, with Olvey hitting her way aboard twice, as the Lady Rebels twice loaded the bases in the late innings.
The Lady Mountaineers and staff ace Miranda Rayburn hung tough, the Lady Rebels needing the base knock from Blanco in the second extra inning for the walk-off win.
“We’ve played Heritage several times on opening day, and it’s always been a barnburner,” Hawkins said. “I was very pleased with the girls ability to play that kind of game early.”
The Rebels/Mountaineers clash on the diamond at Maryville College twice looked as if one of the two teams were ready to blow it open.
Maryville jumped to a 4-0 lead after an inning, only to see the Teffeteller blast spark a rally that would soon see Heritage pull even. The Mountaineers would only pick up speed in the later innings, entering the Maryville seventh with a 12-6 advantage.
“Pretty much the whole game they were hitting us pretty good,” Maryville coach Jim Gaylor said.
Chipping away until they got close, the Rebels sprang from the dugout in celebration after Patrick Johnson delivered a three-run, walk-off double for an opening day triumph.
“It’s one win and both teams have a lot of work to do to improve as the season goes along,” Gaylor said. “At least we know we can come back.”
The Lady Tornadoes twice saw rallies fall short on the season’s first two days. Team ace Nicole Tidwell was dominant for Alcoa in the pitching circle in both outings. Left-fielder Hailey Ray finished 2-for-4 with a double in Tuesday’s loss to Webb. Catcher Emily Walker, first baseman Laurel Pace and Tidwell, with a double, had a hit each.
If they can cut down on the mistakes, Tidwell said she feels good about the Lady Tornadoes chances this season.
“I feel confident,” she said. “I feel better about it than I did in the preseason and scrimmages.”
Alcoa baseball coach Steve Dunn was equally upbeat after the close loss to the big-hitting Spartans. Limit the miscues and find a couple more arms for the pitching rotation, and Dunn said the Tornadoes should be right there come May.
“If they can do that, I think we’re going to be in the hunt,” he said.
William Blount’s Governors and Lady Governors opened on the road on Monday, with the Lady Governors falling, 3-2, at Webb. Bearden rolled in the opener with the Governors, 7-3. The Lady Governors stormed back on Tuesday, routing district rival Bearden, 12-2, in Knoxville.