By Steve Williams
The season before Mitch Turner got the head baseball coach’s position at Grace Christian Academy, he made a key observation at the TSSAA Class A state tournament as the Rams’ assistant.
“I noticed two years ago we were a little shell shocked when we got there,” said Turner. “The stage was just a little big.”
Turner recalled saying, “If I ever coach there as a head coach, I’m going to make sure we get our tails kicked by some bigger schools, so when we get there even the best at Class A state won’t look anything like a Karns or a Powell.”
He put those words into practice this year, and the regular season schedule the Rams went up against was a big factor in Grace Christian winning the state championship.
The only Class A teams GCA played were in its district or in the post-season tournament.
“Everyone else is either a Karns or a Powell,” said Turner. “Karns beat us at their place and we beat them at home. We beat Powell twice. We beat Sequoyah. We got our tails kicked by Sevier County.”
Karns and Powell were the top teams in District 3-AAA, with the Panthers winning the district tourney. Sevier County in District 2-AAA was one of the state’s best teams.
Turner, who played high school baseball at Bearden, would be one of the first to tell you that you don’t have to go far to find outstanding competition in this part of the state.
“It’s all right here,” said Turner. “I know all about Class AAA ball in this area. Farragut and Hardin Valley. I have a whole lot of respect for Knoxville high school baseball, I really do.”
Hardin Valley Academy and Farragut, both out of District 4, ended up playing each other in this season’s Class AAA state finals, with the Hawks knocking off the perennial power in eight innings.
For the record, Knoxville prep baseball has produced 13 state titles since 2000, with Farragut by far leading the way with eight crowns.
In addition to GCA and HVA winning this season, CAK, Gibbs and Webb each has a state championship trophy in the new millennium.
Knoxville teams also have combined for 15 state runner-up finishes since 2000 – four by Farragut, three each by Catholic and Webb and one apiece by Grace, Bearden, South-Doyle, Halls and Gibbs.
Turner also pointed to a loss against an out-of-state opponent in a regular season tourney Grace co-hosted with Farragut.
“We faced a team out of Noblesville, Indiana that was last year’s Class 4A state champion. We went into the eighth inning with them and they beat us 10-8. I was really excited about that. We grew a lot in that game.
“Noblesville had 5,000 at their state championship game in Indiana last year. Farragut beat them 2-0 and they came to our field, and we hit a two-run homer in the seventh to send it to extra innings.”
Turner says he’s called Farragut Coach Matt Buckner a couple of times in the past about trying to get a game with the Admirals.
“He has his schedule so full in advance, it’s hard for him to find a place for a small Class A school like us,” said Turner, “but he has been gracious enough to let us play in his tournaments.”
Now that Grace Christian Academy has a state championship too, maybe that will help the Rams get a future shot at the Admirals.