By Chris Yow
The parallels are becoming a little too coincidental at this point.
Having the same umpire from the 1992 region tournament working behind the plate of their sectional game on Friday was curious, but when Summertown coach Jason Burleson found out who his team would play in the first round of the state tournament on Tuesday, it became more than coincidence in his mind.
That team — University High School out of Johnson City — is the same team Burleson and assistant coach Brent Blackwood played in the first round of the 1992 tournament, from which Summertown emerged as the state champion. The opponent is where Blackwood said he hopes the parallels stop for at least one game.
“Maybe we can have a better opening round this time around than we did last time,” Blackwood said. “We lost to them in the first round game and won out from there.”
This season, Burleson and Blackwood have watched their two senior sons lead the Eagles to another state tournament appearance — their sixth in the last nine tournaments — and all of them are hoping for the exact same outcome as that 1992 tournament.
“They play way more ball than we ever thought about playing. They’ve got experience. Grant and Drake were eighth-graders when we went in 2017 and were sophomores in 2019,” Coach Burleson said. “We are fortunate that a lot of our players were on those teams, so they will know what to expect.”
The two players are tied with 16 home runs and 57 RBIs each going into the tournament, with Blackwood coming on strong within the last couple of weeks to reach those numbers.
“Drake, average-wise, has been in the .500s all year long. He’s gone on a tear with home runs and RBIs. Drake has been our most consistent hitter for average, and now he’s gone on this tear with the home runs and RBIs,” Coach Burleson said. “It’s been fun watching those two. There’s no competition either.
“I believe Drake should be up for Mr. Baseball too.”
Coupled with his performance at the dish, Grant Burleson has been dominant as a pitcher this season, coming off Tommy John surgery as a sophomore. His performance this season has earned him a spot as a Mr. Baseball finalist.
That doesn’t matter much to Grant or Drake.
Neither would ‘fess up to any competition — friendly or otherwise — each saying they just go out and play their best every time they touch the field.
Coach Blackwood said he’s probably more nervous than Drake when it comes to his performance, but he’s been proud to watch him and his teammates grow up together on the baseball field. Their experience together is something he believes will be an X-factor going into this tournament. Despite all the travel ball trophies and rings they’ve brought home, there’s nothing like winning one for your community.
“We knew when they were young and playing together, there is nothing like going to and winning the high school state tournament. The feeling and emotion is unlike anything else,” he said. “Having a kid involved makes it that much more special to hopefully get to see them do the things I got to do.”
Drake said he is excited for an opportunity just to continue playing for one more week with his lifelong teammates.
“I am looking forward to playing with the guys I’ve grown up with, and hopefully we can end it all with a win,” he said.
A win would cement the third state title in school history — Summertown also won a state championship in 2009 — and the Burlesons and Blackwoods have prepared for this tournament in every way possible from the coaches scheduling tough opponents to the players working every day to get better. For Brent and Jason to watch Grant and Drake finish their senior season the same way they finished the 1992 season would be a storybook ending.
“It would be one of the greatest sports-related things we have done together,” Coach Blackwood said. “For them to win it, that would be hard to top.”