Murfreesboro — He’s as much swashbuckler as tennis player.
If there’d been a damsel in distress around in need of rescue last Thursday afternoon at Old Fort Park, Yusuke Yodono would have been perfect for the job.
The fun-loving Maryville High School sophomore fell in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, to Science Hill junior Michael Chen in a quarterfinal match at BlueCross Spring Fling state singles tournament, but no matter. Yodono, 5-foot-9, was at a distinct height disadvantage to the 6-3 Chen, the state’s No. 3-ranked player.
Chen’s big serve and penetrating groundstrokes moved Yodono about the court, but move he did. He traded big swing for big swing with Chen in a fast-moving first set, but it was more jitters than bravado, Yodono said.
“I knew he was famous,” the Rebel No. 1 singles player said. “I was nervous at first.”
So what changed in the second set, where a break at 3-4 was pretty much the difference in sending Chen on to the semifinals?
“I stopped being nervous,” Yodono deadpanned. “I lost, but it gave me some confidence.”
If there was a theme for Blount County’s weeklong stay at the TSSAA’s year-ending state championships that would have to be it. Representatives from Alcoa, Maryville and William Blount didn’t return with any titles in baseball, softball, tennis and track and field, but, as with Yodono, many of them are sure to be heard from again a year from now.
Lady Rebel freshman Payton Robinette, in her first season of organized tennis, reached the semifinals of the Class AAA girls’ tournament before falling, 6-0, 6-0, to White Station junior Kayla Jones. Robinette had been almost equally quick in dispatching Munford’s Taylor Patterson, 6-1, 6-0, earlier in the day.
Blount County has never produced a state tennis champion, and, while there have been doubles pairings to reach the state tournament, Yodono and Robinette may be the first to ever get there in singles.
Across town at the state softball tournament, Maryville’s Lady Rebels (38-11) went nine innings in a hard-fought, 5-4 loss to Seymour in a Class AAA elimination game early Thursday. The Lady Rebels battled back from deficits in both the first and fourth innings, putting the tying run at second with two outs in the final frame.
Junior and Georgia commitment Bry Blanco would never get home with that equalizer, a tantalizing line drive off the bat of fellow junior Allison Barbee just finding the mitt of the Seymour shortstop. For a Maryville team with no seniors and four juniors, the future would seem awfully bright.
“That’s a big part of it,” Blanco said. “This team works so well together. This game hurts because everybody fought their hearts out.”
After falling, 6-1, to 2009 champion Riverdale in last Tuesday’s opener, the Lady Rebels responded with a convincing, 7-3 rout of Bolton a day later to stave off elimination. Maryville returns its top four run producers next season in Blanco (.520 batting average, 52 RBI), sophomore Haley Hilliard (.470, 40), freshman Taylor Hodge (.381, 39) and Barbee (.416, 34). Barbee returns as the ace of the pitching staff.
“Our girls kept fighting,” Maryville coach David Allen said. “You can’t ask for more than that. You’re excited about the future, but, right now, you hurt.”
The girls’ and boys’ state track and field meets on Thursday and Friday, respectively, at Middle Tennessee State University also delivered glimpses of the future. Maryville sophomore Matthew Warriner ran to strong, sixth-place showing at 800 meters. William Blount junior Micah Williamson missed qualifying for the finals of 110-meter hurdles by tenths of a second.
Lady Governor sophomore Brooke Butterworth got up and over the bar to finish seventh in the AAA high jump. The Alcoa 4x400 relay of Jonivan Henry, Lajuan Warfield, Brenden Rudd and Jarod Crenshaw raced to fourth in an A/AA meet-closing burst.
The Lady Rebel quartet of Sy’Vone Anderson, Claire Blackstock, Beth Sexton and Julia Petree finished fifth in the 4x100 relay, coming in .9 tenths of a second off Antioch’s 48.03 winning time. It was there, however, along with two quick losses by the Maryville baseball team, where Blount County’s Spring Fling hopes were dealt an equal dose of bitter to go with the sweet.
Petree, it was later discovered, had injured her hamstring in anchoring the relay. The University of Tennessee signee finished third in the 100 meters later in the day before the injury would allow her to go no further. The Blount Today Female Athlete of the Year was unable to go in her favored 400 after entering the state meet with the fastest qualifying time statewide by more than a second. The future Lady Vol was state champion in the event as a Maryville sophomore.
The exit by the Maryville baseball team after back-to-back losses was especially tough to take. Production schedules prevented Blount Today from arriving in Murfreesboro until late Wednesday afternoon, by which time, after an 8-1 opening loss to Columbia on Tuesday and a 5-0 defeat to Arlington a day later, the Rebels’ charmed postseason run had come to a close.
It was in the how these Rebels became the first Maryville baseball team to reach the state tournament since the school won it all in 1989 that the 2011 team should be remembered, though.
The Rebels (30-14) shocked the district when they knocked off now four-time defending state champion Farragut twice — in one night; at Farragut — for the league championship. A week later, Maryville senior Andrew Bowerman won a showdown with Major League pitching prospect Daniel Norris of Science Hill for the sectional crown.
In their state tournament opener, the Rebels were confronted with yet another big-time arm in Tennessee signee David Horne. A day later, the high school careers of seniors Tommy Wilkinson, Hayden Pewitt, Jordan Rang, Keylon Holloway, Dargan Southard and Bowerman played to a close.