Thursday, October 23, 2014 · 1:53 a.m.

High school baseball playoff preview

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Notre Dame senior Sheldon Brogden leads a talented Irish lineup into the District 7-AA postseason. Notre Dame finished second in the regular season standings, behind a surprising Signal Mountain squad. (Photo: Staff)

The culmination of the spring sports season is three weeks away. Spring Fling starts in Murfreesboro on May 21, but the road to the state championship begins this weekend for a majority of the Division I baseball programs. 

Nooga.com breaks down the favorites from each district, with tournaments starting as soon as Wednesday for some teams. The top two teams from each district tournament advance into the region tournament.

5-AAA 
Player to Watch — Walker Valley pitcher Bobby Towne started the first game of a two-game sweep of Soddy-Daisy two weeks ago and closed the second with a save. He’s also beaten Ooltewah, and the Mustangs will try to ride him, and its No. 1 seed, to the district title. 

District tournament — Ooltewah split its season series with both Walker Valley and No. 3 seed Soddy-Daisy, but finished with the second seed due in large part to a surprising, midseason loss to Rhea County. The Owls’ ups and downs show the parody in the league, which Ooltewah coach Brian Hitchcox describes as strong from “one through seven.” In addition, there was a mix up before the season that led to a new tournament format and a group of unhappy coaches. Walker Valley is the only team with a bye, while the two and three seeds play each other in the first round. The No. 4 seed Bradley Central plays No. 7 McMinn County in the opening round.

Who will make it out — In the last week or so, Ooltewah has added a final piece to the strong defense and pitching it’s shown all season. The Owls should hit their way into the region tournament, where they’ll join Walker Valley.

Moving on — Cookeville claimed the District 6-AAA No. 1 seed, and will be the commanding favorite to take its district tournament title. After Cookeville, though, the district is wide open. Outside of the region, Collierville and Mt. Juliet appear to be the state favorites. The two teams met in the final of the Trojan Invitational, with Collierville taking the 6-2 victory.

6-AA
Player to watch — When the coaches met last Saturday to finalize the tournament schedule and seeding, they also named an all-district team from the regular season. At the top of that list was player of the year, Patrick Parris, from East Hamilton. He’s the Hurricane’s No. 1 pitcher and also has the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark from the middle of the lineup. 

District tournament— The last two seasons, Red Bank has moved into region play wearing the district crown. The Lions, though, are an inexperienced group in the midst of a massive slide. They’ve lost more than 10 games in a row, but still managed to capture the No. 3 seed. East Hamilton and Central claimed first and second, respectively, to earn first-round byes. The two teams split a pair of games in the regular season.

Who will make it out — It’s been a three-team race all season, but Red Bank appears to be tumbling out of contention. With a pair of aces and capable lineups, expect East Hamilton and Central to advance to region play. 

Moving on — Polk County and Sequoyah occupy the top two seeds in District 5-AA, which will match up with 6-AA in the region tournament. Polk and Sequoyah split the season series, but Sequoyah earned the top spot based on run differential. During the regular season, East Hamilton beat Polk County, 4-2 (April 27), but the Wildcats beat Central, 6-4 (March 23). Outside the region, Goodpasture and Spring Hill occupy the top two spots in the Class AA rankings, while East Hamilton sits in fourth.

7-AA
Player to watch — The new BBCOR bats have forced almost every high school hitter to adjust. Notre Dame center fielder and shortstop Sheldon Brogdon, though, made an even more drastic change. He’s used a wooden bat this season, but has caused just as much damage to opponents’ pitching.

District tournament — Signal Mountain stepped from the basement of this district to emerge as the regular-season champion. Few expected the inexperienced Eagles to challenge Notre Dame and Sequatchie for the No. 1 seed, but in a tight race, Signal edged both. Its biggest weapon was football star Reese Phillips, who started six games without allowing an earned run. Notre Dame followed closely behind, and, led by Brogden and Zac Swartout, may have the most potent lineup of the group.

Who will make it out — As the postseason progresses, Notre Dame’s depth and consistency may prove stronger than Signal Mountain’s surprising run buoyed by a part-time pitcher. For now, each approach should be good enough to advance.

Moving on — Smith County’s 21-4 record was good enough to put it into the most recent Class AA polls (8th), and the Owls swept through District 8-AA. They’ll likely await the second-place team out of 7-AA. After Smith County, Livingston Academy and Dekalb County should battle for second.

5-A
Player to watch: The fact that he signed with Alabama before his senior season put a target on the back of Boyd-Buchanan pitcher Clayton Parker. The right-hander struggled early under the pressure, but has resumed his role as the Bucs ace.

District Tournament: While Parker struggled through the middle of the season, there was little drop-off against district competition for Boyd. The Bucs swept through league play, and it would come as a shock to most if they don’t claim the district title. Below them, Silverdale and CSAS will battle for second place and a spot in the region tournament.

Who will make it out: Boyd-Buchanan should roll past the winner of the first-round matchup between Grace Academy and Copper Basin. It will be closer on the other side of the bracket, but a slight edge in pitching goes to Silverdale Baptist’s Spencer Mossburg, who struck out 15 Patriots in a 3-0 victory on April 9.

Moving on: Boyd-Buchanan has already beaten both Lookout Valley and South Pittsburg this season. Those two teams should await the top two finishers in 5-A. Whoever joins Boyd in the regional tournament, though, will be the underdog against either 6-A participant. At the state level, Boyd has already seen favorite Friendship Christian. That game ended in a 17-1 loss for the Bucs, but FCS threw its No. 1, while Boyd was down to a first-time starter.

Division II-AA  
Baylor and McCallie each have one region series remaining on the schedule. Thus far, it’s been an up-and-down league, with McCallie taking two of three from the Red Raiders, but struggling against the rest of the region. Battle Ground Academy is ranked the highest in the East/Middle region, but, like last season, the state tournament may come down to the teams out west. Christian Brothers beat Memphis University School for the title in 2011. The Division II-AA baseball playoffs will start Friday, May 11, with a best-of-three series in the first round.

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