First-hand account reveals true story behind 2011 Rebel season

Maryville High School baseball coach Jim Gaylor presents assistant coach Stephen Coleman with a plaque at the team’s postseason banquet.

Maryville High School baseball coach Jim Gaylor presents assistant coach Stephen Coleman with a plaque at the team’s postseason banquet.

As I sit here today at the 2011 Maryville High School baseball banquet, I cannot help my emotions.

A gigantic smile comes to my face when reminiscing about the last three months of my baseball career. I remember the emotional victories, trying defeats and inspirational figures that, together, shaped a spectacular season, one that included a postseason run that not even the most talented of baseball forecasters could have ever predicted.

Since I had a front row seat to the show, allow me take each of you on the memorable and magical journey through a season that truly was quite an accomplishment.

Before the season began, “finishing” was the message instilled into each player’s head by coach Jim Gaylor and the rest of the coaching staff. Everyone knew how disappointing last year’s early exit was, and nobody wanted a repeat of that. The pressure was there early, and the expectations were high.

It seemed to get to us in Week 1 as we began 2-4 and struggled offensively, often failing to capitalize with runners in scoring position. Thankfully, Week 2 produced better results and we reeled off a run rule victory versus Powell, a win in walk-off fashion against district rival Catholic and a perfect record in The Daily Times Classic for the second consecutive season.

The momentum gained proved vital as we entered the meat of the season. We chalked up district wins against Lenoir City, William Blount and Heritage. Dominant pitching was the key in all three victories, and it would become a theme.

A brief intermission from district play saw us finish 2-2 at the Lenoir City Classic, but the offense knocked in a remarkable 37 runs for the weekend. The regular season had reached the halfway point, and we stood a respectable 12-7. Good, but nowhere near finished.

The opportunities arose quickly when we returned to district play. After a 17-0 pounding of West, it was time for the game anyone associated with Maryville baseball had been waiting for since the schedule came out: Farragut.

The task would be much greater this year as heralded pitcher and Vanderbilt commitment Phillip Pfeifer stood in the way. The Admirals had prospect catcher Nicky Delmonico behind the plate. Delmonico would eventually be selected in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Pfeifer in the 44th round by the Texas Rangers.

All it took was a near perfect pitching performance by Andrew Bowerman and one timely two-run double from Jacob West to pull off the upset and shock the world, 2-1.

“What an accomplishment.”

We now sat atop District 4-AAA at 6-1, but the reign would be short-lived. After shutting out South-Doyle, we fell mightily to Catholic, 13-7, the following week. The loss seemed to linger, and we followed up with six lackluster performances.

While those six games did include a 4-2 record and a seven-run comeback against Seymour, the stretch also brought two enormous losses to district rival Bearden. The message of “finishing” was again heavily preached by all the coaches as the postseason inched closer. Nobody wanted to be flat for the games that mattered most.

The message stuck, and we picked up four consecutive run-rule wins over Heritage, Alcoa, West and McMinn Central to complete the regular season. A third-place district finish was the result, but the momentum was much bigger. And boy, did it get interesting.

After an opening round win over William Blount, it was Bearden for the third time in two weeks. We finally gained the upper hand and pulled out a gutsy, hard-fought 3-2 victory to reach the winner’s bracket championship game against Farragut. The Admirals and the aforementioned Pfeifer proved too much this time and Farragut dropped us into the loser’s bracket with a 5-1 loss.

Still, needing only one win to reach the region tournament, a sense of déjà vu swept over the 19 players this year’s team when the matchup was announced for that all important game. It would be the same game, field and, now, opponent that had abruptly ended our season just one short year ago. Except, this time, there would be no crying.

A four-run first inning to return the favor from a year ago, and we ended the season for Bearden this time, 6-5, and we were on our way back to the region tournament for the first time since 2003.

“What an accomplishment.”

There was still some unfinished business on the table. Although Maryville and Farragut both had secured region berths, we had to play out the rest of the district tournament for seeding purposes. We would have to beat the three-time defending state champion Admirals twice, on the same night — at Farragut — to win the district championship.

Many teams in our position would have settled for second and not wasted the effort to try to overcome those odds, but we were on a mission now. After a five-run first inning, we took Game 1, 9-2, with Bowerman going to the distance to get the win.

Most people were not entirely shocked we won the first game, but nobody predicted a doubleheader sweep. Yet, after another masterful pitching performance, this time from Keylon Holloway, coupled with a clutch, three-run home run from Jonathan Leonard, we pulled off the unthinkable. On the Admirals’ home field, the Rebels defeated Farragut, 6-4, for the district title.

“What an accomplishment.”

We got Oak Ridge in region tournament semifinal. We started slow but poured on the offense in the late innings to upend the Wildcats, 7-0. We were now a single win away from Murfreesboro and the TSSAA State Tournament.

Once again, there was unfinished business. Seeding again needed to be decided, and awaiting us were those same Admirals that had been embarrassed on their home field just a week earlier. This time, the story played out differently as Farragut edged out a 5-4 victory behind a seventh-inning comeback.

We would now have to win the sectional game and reach the state tournament on the road. The odds against it happening were huge.

Science Hill had an ace, left-hander Daniel Norris, who was about to be taken in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft. His mid to upper 90’s fastball, coupled with a devastating curve, created improbable odds for us to overcome even before the first pitch was thrown.

“We’re gonna shock da world” had become our motto by now, and we did just that, scoring eight runs, seven off of Norris, to shock the Hilltoppers, 8-2, For the first time since Maryville won it all back in 1989, the Rebels were back in the state tournament.

“What an accomplishment.”

While the overall performance in Murfreesboro was no doubt disappointing, the exposure to the highest level of competition in the state was a tremendous experience. It took two future SEC pitchers to finally end our run, something many teams do not encounter in an entire season.

Farragut would go on to win a record fourth consecutive state championship at the end of the week, but the 19 Rebels on this year’s team could proudly fall back on three victories over the eventual state champions when all was said and done.

The banquet has hit its halfway point now, and the individual awards have just been distributed. Each victory was a team win, but there were definitely some individual moments that deserve recognition.

There was the unexpected move of catcher Hayden Pewitt to the leadoff spot, which only resulted in a high on-base percentage and numerous hits for the senior backstop. A solid combination of consistent hitting and occasional power headlined the season for senior Andrew Rouse, whose home run at Catholic has still yet to land.

There was the untouchable outfield trio of Holloway, Bowerman and Jordan Rang, whose outfield assists cut big innings short against the likes of Catholic, Farragut, Bearden, and Columbia.

They say, “Chicks dig the long ball,” and nobody will ever forget the home runs hit by Leonard against Farragut and West against Science Hill. Both sent the Rebel dugout into a state of complete chaos and all but secured Maryville victories.

There were the stellar defensive performances turned in by Evan Molter, who quickly squashed all doubts about who would hold down the first base position, and the presence of newcomer Patrick Poteet, whose exposure to the varsity level as a underclassmen will prove crucial in future seasons.

Most important was the pitching staff anchored by Tommy Wilkinson, Dalton Curtis and the aforementioned Bowerman, Holloway and Leonard, who gave Maryville, no matter the opponent, a chance to win every time it took the field.

The banquet is nearing its conclusion, but there is still one more individual who deserves recognition. The accomplishments and memories associated with this person simultaneously bring tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.

By now many people may know the story of assistant coach Stephen Coleman. The Maryville junior varsity head coach is currently battling brain cancer. What most do not realize about this extraordinary man is his persistent determination and dedication to the team this season.

Despite his health, coach Coleman chose to spend every second he could around us. There was his inspirational presence at home versus Heritage, when he proudly delivered the game ball; his moving entrance at Bearden in the district tournament, which was followed by another hard-fought Rebel victory; and the countless times coach Coleman could be found in his usual spot adjacent to the dugout at Maryville College’s Scotland Yard, cheering us on.

Stephen Coleman motivated each and every one of us to perform at our personal best every single time we stepped on the diamond. He taught us to never let our effort be in question. Everybody knew he was giving all he possibly could this season, and, in return, not one of us wanted to disappoint him.

Coach Coleman’s perseverance and courageous efforts throughout the season made the creation of the Stephen Coleman Courage Award, to be given each year to a deserving Maryville player, an easy and natural decision.

“What an accomplishment.”

The chairs haven been put up, lights turned off and parking lot emptied, signaling the end of the 2011 Maryville High School baseball banquet. As I sit in my car with nothing but a street lamp for light, I begin to realize just how lucky I truly am.

All athletes strive to go out on top, but only handfuls actually succeed. Often, a little time has to pass to really know. Assistant coach Landon Coleman, Stephen’s younger brother, left no doubt how we should look back on this season before we left the banquet hall. He needed only three words, and, really, it said it all:

“What an accomplishment.”

Former Maryville High School baseball player Dargan Southard will begin his freshman year at the University of Tennessee this fall as a communications major. The Rebels delivered one of the more memorable seasons in Blount County history this spring, all while playing with heavy hearts. At the team’s banquet following the season, Southard found a perspective on it all we feel transcends any particular school or sport.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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