Blount Press Row

Pride In His Work

Sixth-grader’s web gem helps Union Grove secure title

The Union Grove Wildcats hoist the championship hardware on Friday.

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Just your basic 7-5 putout on a ground ball up the line. From a sixth-grader.

Union Grove left fielder Reece Pride delivered a pin-point, one-hop throw to third to let some steam out of a building Eagleton big inning in the sixth.

The Wildcats talk things over between innings.

The Wildcats talk things over between innings.

Wildcats right-hander Carson Yates took it from there, finishing the inning with a pair of timely strikeouts, and Union Grove stopped Eagleton, 6-4, in the Blount County Middle School Baseball Tournament championship game on Friday at Union Grove.

The title is the first for the Wildcats, who claimed the crown in Kris Roberts’ final game as coach. Roberts is stepping down at the end of the school year.

Union Grove held a 6-2 lead entering the Eagleton sixth. Wildcat starter Jacob Patterson scattered five hits with four strikeouts before reaching his pitch limit, Yates coming on in relief.

The change necessitated moving Pride, the only sixth-grader on the roster, to left.

Only just as Union Grove looked to have it put away, Eagleton charged.

Yates fanned the first batter he faced, only to see Hunter Davis reach on a third-strike passed ball. Riley Tipton hit next and got aboard on a throwing error at short, Davis scampering home on the play to trim the Union Grove lead to three. A Carson Eisenhower single to right got Tipton home, and it was 6-4 Wildcats with no one out.

On a 3-2 count, Eagleton catcher Sam McMurray belted the drive up the third base line to put Eisenhower in motion. When he rounded second, Pride came up throwing.

“I heard them saying, ‘He’s going! He’s going!'” Pride said, “and I reacted to it and threw.”

After the inning, Roberts gathered the Wildcats at the first base line to restore order.

“I just told them to keep their poise,” he said, “to keep making plays, to keep playing defense and get outs.”

Yates worked the Eagleton seventh 1-2-3 to close it out.

Job Matossian slugs a double back to center through the diamond.

Job Matossian slugs an offering back through the infield.

Union Grove got right to it with the run production. Yates was hit by a pitch in the Wildcats first. Roberts put the hit and run on and Chris Harmon delivered, depositing a drive to straightaway center to score Harmon from first.

Eisenhower singled and scored for Eagleton to get the run back a half inning later. After a season defined by battling back, the Royals weren’t going to go quietly.

“We’ve had some adversity this season, and these boys have really come together and impressed me,” Eagleton coach Kevin Bean said. “We hadn’t beaten anybody in the county (before the tournament). I’ve been telling them all year, ‘We’re right there! We’re right there!'”

Union Grove opened some breathing room in the third. Hunter Autry, Yates and Harmon loaded the bases on a passed ball and a pair of walks. Isaiah Norman’s drive to left cleared the bases to give the Wildcats a 4-1 lead.

Eagleton, which upset tournament top-seed Alcoa to reach the title game, came right back, Davis boarding and scoring on a Tipton single the next half inning.

Half an inning later, Avery Crabtree doubled and scored to push the Union Grove lead to 5-2. Wildcats center fielder Job Matossian singled home Jacob Patterson for a 6-4 advantage in the fifth.

Motassian, a seventh-grader in his first year of baseball at any level, finished his afternoon 2-for-2, including a blistering double to left in the Union Grove second.

It’s been a memorable final season on many fronts, Roberts said.

The Wildcats lost the team’s best hitter, eighth-grader Colby Abbott, at the start of the tournament. Abbott’s numbers on the season included a team-best .500 batting average, .685 on-base percentage and 23 runs scored.

Five others — Harmon (.350), Norman (.341), Patterson (.318), Mastossian (.310) and Yates (.304) — hit better than .300. Harmon led the club in doubles (10) and RBI (20), Norman setting the pace with a pair of home runs to go with 19 runs driven in.

Patterson collected 18 RBI, Matossian the team’s only triple and 13 RBI.

Crabtree, along with 42 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched, threw a perfect game in a win over Gatlinburg-Pittman earlier this season.

All of it made stepping away terribly difficult, Roberts said. In parting, he asked Blount Press Row to publish the following, thanking the players and parents during his 15-year tenure for their support:

“I have been blessed to be the William Blount/Union Grove middle school baseball coach for the past 15 years. I have been fortunate to get to coach some great kids, meet some wonderful parents, and coach with some outstanding assistants.

“I have made memories and friends that will last a lifetime. In the end it is not about wins or losses, it is about the relationships you build. Stepping down was not an easy decision, but one that was best for me and my family. I look forward to the next chapter in my baseball life, watching my son during his 8th grade and high school years at Sevier County.

“I am going to keep my teaching job at Union Grove middle and help the new coach any way I can.

“Go Wildcats!”

Union Grove Middle Wildcats
2017 Blount County Champions

The Blount County champion Union Grove Wildcats include: Colby Abbott, Jacob Patterson, Marshall Cooper, Isaiah Norman, Carson Yates, Avery Crabtree, Chris Harmon, Hunter Autry, Job Matossian, Jackson Crabtree, Tyler Owen, Reece Pride.

The Blount County champion Union Grove Wildcats include: Colby Abbott, Jacob Patterson, Marshall Cooper, Isaiah Norman, Carson Yates, Avery Crabtree, Chris Harmon, Hunter Autry, Job Matossian, Jackson Crabtree, Tyler Owen, Reece Pride.

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