Category Archives: high school baseball

Mathis steps down after one season at Tigers’ helm

By Maurice Patton

Kennedy Mathis, who in his first season as baseball coach at Mt. Pleasant led the Tigers to their first double-digit win campaign in seven years, has abruptly resigned from that position.

“An opportunity came up for me that I couldn’t pass up,” said Mathis, who will enter the business sector after rallying his first team from a slow start to within one win of a berth in the Region 5-A Tournament. “When I sat down and mapped everything out, it just ultimately made the most sense for me and my family.

“In making that decision, I thought a lot about the guys and what we built in a year. That made it extremely tough. It was very, very difficult.”

Succeeding Eddie Bassham in the veteran’s third stint as coach at the school, Mathis – a former Independence assistant who played at Forrest and at Columbia State – guided the Tigers from a 3-8 debut to the No. 2 seed in the District 10-A postseason tourney, a loss in the consolation finals to eventual tournament titlist Richland and an 11-17 finish.

“I thought he had a heck of a year. I told him that, straight up,” Mt. Pleasant principal Ryan Jackson said. “I’m proud of him, proud of that work. It’s a tough loss, not only for Mt. Pleasant baseball but for the school …

“One thing he did do was create a foundation. Even though it was only one year, this young guy came in and created a solid foundation. Whoever we wind up getting in there, we can now point to this microcosm of success we had in this one year, a team that is very solid with some up-and-coming players that are ripe for greatness.”

Mt. Pleasant featured just one senior, all-district selection Ryan Clark, and counts rising senior Gaven Whitehead – who struck out 16 in an April 19 three-hit shutout victory against Santa Fe to help secure that district runner-up finish – among its returnees for 2022.

“I think you just point to the good work that was done, the foundation that was built,” Jackson said. “You just hope somebody saw the work Kennedy did and says ‘I’d like to build on top of that’. That’s the hope right now.

“Kennedy played a strong part in threading some of those pieces together to maximize potential. He saw the potential in some of those guys and literally maximized it.”

Mathis creates at least the fourth coaching change from the 2020-21 school year for Mt. Pleasant.

Bronson Bradley was dismissed in November after seven seasons as football coach and replaced by ex-Blackman coach Kit Hartsfield, while both basketball coaches – Chris Carney with the boys, Amy Odom with the girls – were relieved of their duties in April, each after two years in their positions. Hayden Pentecost has been named girls coach, with the boys search still ongoing.

Jackson admitted a bit of dismay with the latest development.

“That one stings,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of love for him. I hate to see him go, but we ultimately wish the very best for him.

“We’re on the hunt.”

Elsewhere in Maury County, coaching vacancies remain at Columbia Central (girls basketball, softball) and Culleoka (girls basketball) in addition to Mt. Pleasant.

Second shutout ends Eagles’ campaign short of title game

By Maurice Patton

MURFREESBORO – ‘Offensively challenged’ wouldn’t have been an accurate characterization of Summertown – until this week.

For the second time in as many days, the Eagles were unable to dent the scoreboard as East Robertson brought their season to an end with a 2-0 decision in the Class A baseball state tournament Thursday at Riverdale.

Summertown lost 5-0 to the Indians on Wednesday, falling into the losers bracket, but answered with an 11-1 elimination game victory over University School-Johnson City – their second run-rule win against the Buccaneers, following a 10-0 triumph in Tuesday’s tourney opener.

The Eagles’ second matchup got off to a sour start, as Christian Brothers University signee Van True staked East Robertson to a 1-0 lead with a one-out home run off Class A Mr. Baseball Grant Burleson.

As it turned out, that would be all the offense Indians starter Dylan Stroud would need. He and reliever Alex Patterson held Summertown (30-10) two hits – a bloop single by Skyler Trousdale to lead off the fifth, and a one-out line drive into left field by Grayson Burleson in the seventh as the Eagles tried desperately to rally. After Burleson’s base hit was mishandled by Miller Cothron, allowing him to move to second base, Patterson struck out Trousdale and got Cory Francis to ground out to shortstop to end the game.

“We had three hits in two games, and they scored a couple of runs on us,” Grant Burleson said after the loss. “It’s hard to say they’re better than us. But we didn’t hit.

“They mixed pitches well. They ‘curved’ our top three hitters (Gavin Burleson, Drake Blackwood, Grant Burleson) a lot. They mixed pitches and got outs. We couldn’t get enough hits to get a run in. We couldn’t put anything together.”

East Robertson (29-7) put up an insurance run in the top of the sixth as True’s sacrifice fly scored Carson Searcy, who led off the inning with a single.

Besides that, Grant Burleson limited the Indians offensively – but the damage, with East Robertson’s mound work, was done.

“Our guys have worked hard all year and fell into who they are, and they’ve blossomed,” East Robertson coach Derek Wix said of the job his pitching corps did this week while preserving Peyton Smith. The Vanderbilt signee has not pitched since the team’s 3-1 sectional win Friday over visiting Loretto.

“He’s available,” Wix said regarding Friday’s 1 p.m. championship matchup at Blackman, when the Indians will face Moore County, a 15-5 winner Thursday over South Pittsburg. “He threw a lot in the sectional. We’re nursing him. We’re not trying to push him. We’re not in the business of doing damage to a kid. He’s available, but so’s our No. 2 (True).”

Wix admitted he was pleasantly surprised at holding Summertown – which averaged 9.3 runs per game for the season – scoreless in two matchups this week.

“I don’t know if we had them off timing wise or with our movement or what, but we knew exactly what they’re capable of,” he said “We waited for it to happen. It never did.”

Both Grant Burleson and his dad, Summertown coach Jason Burleson, tried to maintain a healthy perspective following the loss.

“We did what we wanted to do, to a certain point,” Grant said. “We made it back to state. (Finishing) 30-10 is not a bad season. We almost made it to the championship.”

“’These seniors have been to state three times, they’ve been in the ‘Final Four’ – in this game – in 2019 and ’21,” Jason added. “When you get back and reflect, it’s hard enough to get here, it’s hard to win it. You’ve got to get some breaks.

“You hope these kids are thankful to get here. It’s hard to do and our seniors did it three years.”

East Robertson 2, Summertown 0

ER 100 001 0 — 2 4 2
ST 000 000 0 – 0 2 2

Dylan Stroud, Alex Patterson (6) and Wyatt Hobgood. Grant Burleson and Lane Burleson. W: Stroud. L: Patterson. HR: East Robertson – True.

Photos by Rob Fleming / SM-Tn Sports

Eagles slug, pitch way to dominant tourney-opening win

By Maurice Patton

MURFREESBORO – Gavin Burleson and his Summertown teammates had heard about Kaleb Meredith, the University of Tennessee commitment that started for University School-Johnson City in the Class A baseball state tournament opener Tuesday.

They weren’t impressed.

Burleson had a leadoff double and came around to score as the Eagles knocked Meredith out in a five-run first inning on the way to an eventual 10-0, five-inning victory at Riverdale High School.

Summertown (29-8) will face East Robertson, a 10-0, five-inning winner over Lake County, in the winners bracket semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Meredith and three other Buccaneer pitchers surrendered 11 hits in the loss.

“We came out swinging well. That was big, (to) get up there and hit the ball,” Burleson said.

Meanwhile, Burleson threw just 52 pitches in the victory – recording just one strikeout, but limiting the Bucs (22-14) to three hits.

“All year, he’s been efficient,” Summertown coach Jason Burleson said after the victory. “We were going to get him out in the fifth; we can bring him back Thursday if we need to.

“The pitch count makes it tough when you’re here. You’re trying to save guys for the next day, Thursday, Friday.”

Summertown was able to pretty quickly turn its attention to its next encounter – backing up the five-run first with back-to-back home runs from Grant and Lane Burleson in the second inning, then adding two on a Grant Burleson double in the fourth before closing the contest out with a Jake Smith one-out base hit that scored Skyler Trousdale with the final run.

“It’s way more comfortable out there when you’ve got a lead,” Gavin Burleson said. “We just went out there and filled (the strike zone) up and kept them off the bases.”

Burleson worked out of a bit of trouble in the visitors’ opening at-bat, giving up a couple of two-out singles before ending the inning with a flyout. However, University School’s only other hit came to lead off the third, and he retired the next three hitters on a pair of flyouts and a fielder’s choice.

Seven of the nine Eagles starters had at least one hit, with Grant – named Class A Mr. Baseball by the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association earlier Tuesday – Lane, Grayson Burleson and Smith each picking up a pair.

“They squared the ball up well,” University School coach Josh Petty said. “They hit a lot of line shots right at us. Sometimes those are the hardest ones. They hit it gap-to-gap and they pitched it well.”

The Buccaneers were making their third consecutive state tourney appearance.

“We always seem to get a tough draw,” he said. “We had (Loretto’s Ryan) Weathers his senior year. This time, we probably drew the two best teams down here in Summertown and East Robertson. But you’ve got to go play.”

Jason Burleson was pleased with the offensive performance.

“When we hit through the lineup, we have a pretty good chance,” he said. “We hit through the lineup, we moved runners.”

Summertown 10, Univ. School-Johnson City 0 (5 inn.)

U 000 00 – 0 3 0
S 520 21 – 10 11 0

Kaleb Meredith, Daniel Grindstaff (1), Joseph Kent (4), Jesse Greene (4) and Cade Pollock. Gavin Burleson and Drake Blackwood. W: Gv. Burleson. L: Meredith. HR: Summertown – Grant Burleson, Lane Burleson.

Photos by Rob Fleming / SM-Tn Sports

Summertown’s Burleson earns top TBCA Class A honor

By Maurice Patton

MURFREESBORO — Jason Burleson tries to treat all his players the same – regardless of who their parents are.

Still, the veteran Summertown coach had to admit it was a “really cool moment” Tuesday morning when Eagles senior pitcher/first baseman Grant Burleson was recognized as the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association’s Class A Mr. Baseball during a ceremony at New Visions Baptist Church.

“I try to coach as fairly as I can, for all the kids. I’m a coach first on the field,” said the older Burleson – father of Grant and fellow Summertown players Gavin and Grayson. “But this was a really cool moment to have with your kid.”

As the Eagles head into Class A state tournament action at 4 p.m. Tuesday against University School of Johnson City, Burleson will have the added distinction of being the fourth straight Lawrence County product to earn the TBCA’s top honor. Loretto’s Blade Tidwell was named Mr. Baseball in 2019, after former Mustang and current San Diego Padres pitcher Ryan Weathers won the award in 2017 and ’18.

“Ryan and Blade were both really good (high school) players; both are probably going to wind up playing Major League baseball,” the younger Burleson said. “It just worked out.

“It’s definitely going to be a target on my back (this week).”

Over a 28-8 campaign, Burleson hit .477 with 16 home runs, driving in 57 runs and scoring 53, while going 6-2 on the mound with a 1.42 earned run average and 97 strikeouts in 48 innings.

“I knew my stats were pretty good,” he said. “I’ve had a good year. But there were some good players up there. It could have gone either way.”

Moore County’s Chris Martin and East Robertson’s Peyton Smith were the other two Class A finalists.

“Numbers wise, we felt like he had a good shot,” Jason Burleson said. “But Smith is going to Vanderbilt.”

Both player/son and coach/father felt like the offensive production put him over the top.

“I really didn’t expect to hit 16 (homers), if somebody had asked me before the season,” the Columbia State signee said. “I didn’t expect it to be as (good a season) as it was.”

Columbia Academy senior first baseman/pitcher Kavares Tears, a Class A finalist in 2019, watched Tuesday as future University of Tennessee teammate James McCracken of Middle Tennessee Christian was presented the Division II-A award.

Goodpasture’s Brendan Jones was the other DII-A finalist.

“I always want to finish first, but I’m considered one of the top three in my division and my (future) roommate won it,” Tears said. “I’m just as proud of him as I would be for myself.”

Tears helped the Bulldogs to a 32-9 finish and a DII-A state quarterfinals berth. On the year, he hit .462 with 11 homers, 52 RBIs and 46 runs along with a 7-2 pitching record, a 2.28 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 43 innings.

“His stats speak for themselves,” CA coach Richie Estep said. “People pitching around him all the time makes it extremely difficult, and he still produced for us. You knew every time he came up, something positive was going to happen.

“He had a tremendous career for us. We’re going to miss him and we look forward to watching him for years to come.”

Tears was the third different finalist from Columbia Academy since the award’s 2015 inception, following Scott Lentz in 2016 and Will McCall in 2018.

Summertown hoping father-son connections lift Eagles to state titles 29 years apart

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.”

Brent Blackwood, left, and Jason Burleson, right, were members of the 1992 state championship team at Summertown. (Courtesy photo)

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.”

Drake Blackwood, left, and Grant Burleson, right, have led their 2021 Summertown team to the Class A state tournament. (Photos by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports)

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.”

Burleson a perfect 10 as Summertown claims state tourney berth

By Maurice Patton

SUMMERTOWN – Grant Burleson’s performance Friday night won’t win him the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association’s Class A Mr. Baseball honors – finalists were announced Wednesday, with the award to be presented Tuesday.

But the Summertown senior may make some folks think twice about how they voted.

In a must-win sectional contest against visiting Richland, Burleson struck out 10 in a 71-pitch perfect game and hit a fifth-inning two-run home run to break open an eventual 9-0 victory – helping the program continue its run of odd-number-year state tourney appearances.

“I’ve said that we thought he was a Mr. Baseball-type guy, but for him to do it in that type fashion is pretty awesome,” coach – and dad – Jason Burleson said after the game.

“I was definitely worried when we were up 1-0, but I couldn’t be more proud of how we closed it out. If you could draw it up, that’s the way you’d want to.”

Summertown (28-8) scratched out a run in the bottom of the first against Richland left-hander Rob Turner, as Gavin Burleson – the middle of three Burleson brothers – reached on a walk and scored on Grant’s sacrifice fly.

From there, though, neither team got much done offensively over the following three at-bats.

“(Turner) threw against us two years ago here,” Jason Burleson said. “We didn’t hit him until late in that one, so we knew we’d have a tough time. He’s a really good pitcher, kept us off balance. We were lucky to get the one run early that we did get.”

Turner allowed just two hits in 4 1/3 innings while striking out five, before Richland coach Troy Hughes turned to his bullpen.

“Rob’s arm was bothering him coming in,” Hughes said. “He gutted it out. I stayed with him as long as I could, and I made a move, and it’s a move I’d make again.”

Gavin Burleson greeted Richland reliever Sam Edwards with a solo home run on Edwards’ first pitch, and after Drake Blackwood reached on a walk, Grant homered as well to give the hosts a 4-0 advantage.

“I don’t think (Edwards) made bad pitches. They just did a good job being on time. All year (teams) have fouled that off or popped it up. These guys didn’t.”

Summertown — which has reached the state tournament in each odd-numbered year since 2009 — added five runs in the sixth, four on a Blackwood grand slam.

“He’s been struggling,” Jason Burleson said. “He struck out three times against Loretto (in the Region 6-A finals). He’s been taking a lot of pitches. We told him he’s got to swing the bat. That grand slam was huge for him. We hope we can get him going next week.”

The late offense was more than enough for Grant, who admitted he was unaware of his perfect game bid until late in the contest.

“I was sitting (in the dugout) thinking, I don’t think they’ve had anybody on base,” he said. “I don’t think many people knew, other than the coaches.

“It’s a great win. I’m glad we got it done.”

Hughes, meanwhile, said Burleson was better than he’d anticipated.

“He threw several pitches Monday,” the coach said after finishing 23-15. “We were expecting him to pitch, but we weren’t expecting him to be as good as he was. We saw him earlier in the year, and we thought maybe he’d have a few innings on his arm, he may not be as fresh. But he was spectacular.

“We put a lot of balls in play. We battled. But they made plays. It’s just one of those things.”

Summertown 9, Richland 0

R 000 000 0 – 0 0 2
S 100 035 x – 9 5 0

Rob Turner, Sam Edwards (5), Austin Schrengost (5), Aiden Waldron (6) and Landon Griggs. Grant Burleson and Lane Burleson. W: Gt. Burleson. L: Turner. HR: Summertown – Gavin Burleson, Grant Burleson, Drake Blackwood.

Photos by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports