Despite seeing his veteran and battle-tested squad win seven of its first nine games to open the 2016 season, Farragut High School baseball coach Matt Buckner said his team is having its share of early struggles.
“Nothing seems to be coming too easy for us right now,” Buckner said after the Admirals notched a comeback victory over Maryville in a District 4-AAA tilt on Wednesday, March 23 at John Heatherly Field. “We won the game and that’s what counts but I feel like we can’t really catch a break.
“We’ve been hitting the ball hard but we’ve been hitting it right at people. I can count seven or eight times in that game right there where we hit the ball hard but we hit it right at somebody. We just have to keep grinding. In the last three games, I can count a dozen times where we’ve hit the ball hard but we’ve hit it right at somebody.”
Farragut (7-2 overall, 2-1 in District 4-AAA) fell behind early against the Red Rebels when Maryville leadoff man Drake Martin homered on the second pitch of the game from Admirals starter and senior left hander Danny Abel, the home run came on the heels of Farragut’s 3-1 loss to rival Bearden at Phil Garner Ballpark on Tuesday, March 22, in a game where the Admirals struggled to get timely hits.
FHS, however, quickly reversed its fortunes against the Red Rebels (1-5, 0-2) on this night. The Admirals took the lead for good by scoring two runs with two outs in the bottom of the frame.
After Maryville starter Will Orren retired the first two Admirals he faced, Jake Grooms singled and Cade Burkey drew a walk to put runners on first and second. Orren, the Red Rebels’ sophomore lefty, then plunked Alec Rheinhart to load the bases.
The Admirals scored and knotted the game 1-1 when senior Carmelo Venero got a single on a swinging bunt.
Venero said that he felt a sense of redemption after struggling in the previous game against the Bulldogs.
“Last night [against Bearden], I didn’t do very well and it was really frustrating,” Venero said. “It does feel good to bounce back after last night.
“This is my senior year and I just want to come out and have fun. Tonight, we just came out and played baseball. We had fun and we just did what we do.”
Farragut took the lead by inning’s end when Chandler Chambers drew a bases-loaded walk to plate Burkey with the go-ahead run.
Maryville had its chances throughout the contest but the Red Rebels just couldn’t get the clutch hitting they needed to nab a crucial district victory according to first-year head coach Adam Sullivan.
“The difference in this game was execution,” said Sullivan, who took the Maryville job last summer after a long tenure at Knoxville Catholic High School. “They’re a good team and they executed. We didn’t. They had a swinging bunt that they got down. We couldn’t get our bunts down.”
“This was just one of those typical District 4-AAA games and you have to execute. I’m happy with our kids’ effort. I think they really want it. Tonight, it just wasn’t there. The good news is that we have until May and this is a tournament sport.”
Sullivan knows the benefits of getting hot late in the season. He led the Irish to the last two Class AA State Championship Games before going to Blount County. Catholic lost 15 games before making a postseason run. He also guided KCHS to a Region 2-AAA tournament berth before the Irish changed classifications.
Farragut extended its advantage to 4-1 with a pair of runs in the fifth. Duncan Pence singled to lead off the frame and took second on a balk. Cole Morgan drew an intentional walk before Jake Hagenow singled to load the bases. Pence scored on a sacrifice fly by John Painter and Morgan came home when Burkey was hit by a pitch.
Pence said he sees big things in store for the Admirals.
“It feels good to come back after losing to Bearden,” he said. Tonight, we got some solid pitching, “We have more potential than any team that I’ve been a part of here and I’ve been here for a long time.”
Farragut added a run in the sixth. Venero singled, stole second and took third when Maryville reliever Bryce Carnes uncorked a wild pitch. Venero scored the game’s final run on a sacrifice fly by Pence.