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Dragons avenge regular season loss on way to state

Dragons celebrate on the field after beating Bartlett to go to state

By Bill Sorrell

Carson Rees got what he expected in Collierville’s 2-0 Sub-State victory over Bartlett on Friday: One, the money. Two, the show. Three, to get ready. Four, to go.

Collierville senior pitcher Tyler Sherman and Bartlett junior pitcher Chris Braswell were both money for their teams as both showed up with their top games.

Sherman threw a complete-game, three hitter and Braswell a four-hitter but Rees’ sacrifice fly in the sixth inning got Marcus Bersoza ready to score and the Dragons broke open a scoreless game to go to the show, the TSSAA Class AAA state tournament.

With a 35-7 record, the Dragons were scheduled to play Johnson City Science Hill (35-7) on Tuesday in the first round at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro. Siegel was scheduled to play Clarksville Rossview on Tuesday in another first round game. The bracket final is scheduled today after second round games on Wednesday.

With a 2-0 win over Houston on Friday, Arlington (17-11) advanced to the state tournament. The Tigers played Smyrna Stewarts Creek on Tuesday at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro. Brentwood and Seymour are also in Arlington’s bracket.

The state championship game is scheduled at 5 p.m. Friday at Middle Tennessee State University.

“I was expecting a pitcher show. I was expecting it to be a low scoring game but we hit the ball more and came out on top,” said Rees, a senior right fielder.

The pitchers’ duel went six innings before either team got a leadoff runner on base.

In the bottom of the sixth, Braswell walked Bersoza, the first walk of the game. Braswell then walked Evan Chatlosh.

Bartlett Head Coach Josh Stewart then called in reliever junior Brayden Arendale.

After getting an out, a passed ball advanced Bersoza and Chatlosh to second and third.

With a .333 batting average, Rees’ sacrifice fly to center field brought Bersoza home for a 1-0 lead. A courtesy runner for Chatlosh, Kobe Perkins scored on an error in center field for the 2-0 win.

“I got a little under it. I think I got it high enough to where the right fielder lost it in the sky. I think it was just enough to get that run in. I was feeling like I was lucky because it wasn’t the greatest hit,” said Rees.

Bartlett senior center fielder Reese Wagner got his second hit of the game, a single, on a 3-2 count. That was followed by Bartlett’s B.J. Banyon hitting a line drive to Collierville third baseman Cannon Whitby who made a terrific catch.

“That was probably the hardest ball hit by both groups all night, a line drive to third base and the third baseman made a great play,” said Stewart.

Coaching the Dragons to the state tournament for the second time in three seasons, Head Coach Jeff Munier called Rees’ sacrifice “huge.”

“With two strikes putting the ball in play,” he said. “I think we did that a lot tonight. We were able to scarp those two runs across when we needed to. Going into the seventh I thought if we could score one run, I thought we had it. We had our closer loose (Zach Jackson) and ready to go too.”

A University of Tennessee at Martin commit, Sherman had four strikeouts while improving his record to 9-1. He has a 1.045 ERA.

“Tyler definitely stood out,” said Rees. “He shut them down on three hits in a full game. That is amazing. You can’t ask anything else from a pitcher.”

Collierville catcher Riley Davis said, “Me and Tyler got in a groove and we just kept that the whole game and were able to get batters out. I am very excited.”

Senior left fielder and UT Martin commit, Bersoza said, “Pitching was absolutely magnificent. Congrats to Bartlett. What a great season they had. I am sorry they came up short but their pitcher was really dominant tonight but just got the best of him. We got to their bullpen. It was a tough game, zeroes all over the board but I am glad we came through.”

Stewart called Sherman “battled tested.”

“He is a good pitcher,” he added. “I knew that he was going to pound the zone.”

Defense was a key for both teams.

“In these big games if you are going to win you have got to play solid defense. It starts on the mound. You have to have your defense rolling too to win a championship,” said Munier, whose 2016 team played in the state tournament.

The victory avenged a loss earlier in the season to the Panthers (28-13).

After the first 16 games this season, Bartlett was 8-8 and won 20 of their last 25 games.

“I attribute it to the seniors,” said Stewart, who is in his fifth year as head coach. “They are one of the best group of young men that I have coached. They never gave up. It is a very high character group. They continued to show up hungry to practice and they tried to get a little bit better every day.

“We had great performances from Reese Wagner, Logan Eason who had high batting averages,” he continued. “We had some young ones step up. I thought Jalen Fithian and B.J. Banyon had big years and they are sophomores. Underclassmen will be hungry for next season.”

Celebrating the season, the Dragons formed the proverbial dog pile on the pitchers’ mound, threw bottles and buckets of Gatorade, formed dust angles on base paths and went to center field to keep cheering.

Seniors missed graduation Friday night but got their diplomas on Tuesday.

“I would rather be here on this field with my guys than anywhere else,” said Rees, a defensive end on the football team who missed most all the season after breaking his back in the first quarter against Germantown.

With his back healing faster than normal, Rees returned for baseball with no issues and feeling “very, very lucky.”

“This means everything. It’s my last sport. I am not going to college for sport so it’s exciting to go to state for my last year,” said Rees, who will attend Utah State University after two years on the mission field for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Stewart called it a clean game. Each team made only one error. Collierville’s error in left field came in the first inning.

The Dragons’ first hit came in the first inning when Chatlosh singled. Wagner, who has signed to play for Mississippi University for Women’s baseball team, singled for Bartlett in the third. Cole Smith, a junior who has committed to Ole Miss, singled for the Panthers in the fourth but a double play ended the threat.

Davis singled for Collierville in the fourth but was stranded with two pop ups.

Bartlett second baseman Eason made an excellent catch the play before Gabe Nicholsoh singled in the fifth for Collierville.

“It was two good teams battling it out. You don’t see a lot of high school games that are 0-0 through five innings. Usually a team makes a mistake or the pitcher can’t control the strike zone. It was a pitcher’s battle,” said Stewart.

Braswell, who is being recruited by colleges and exited with two strikeouts, overcame nerves in the first inning. He finished with a 5-3 record.

“I believe that is when they got one of their four hits,” Stewart said. “They got some base runners on and he was able to work out of it. I thought he settled in. I thought he did well. He commanded the zone.

“Neither pitcher’s pitch count got real high,” he continued. “I could have left him in but I thought his pitch count was higher than Sherman’s. Chris is a pretty even keel-type kid. He doesn’t show a lot of emotions. We knew coming in our barrels were loaded. We had people available. Arendale came in and did a good job.

“The balls didn’t find the holes for us and late in the game, the balls found a spot to drop for them,” he concluded. “I am disappointed, especially for our my seniors. I hate they don’t get to experience a trip to Murfreesboro. In my opinion they deserve it but that is the game of baseball.”

College commits on Collierville’s team also include seniors Alec Bouton (Lyon), Jared Shelton (Southwest Tennessee), junior Ty Leatherwood (Middle Tennessee), sophomore Jack Dougherty (Ole Miss).

Along with Rees, the offense has been sparked by Davis, who has a .374 batting average, Chatlosh (.360), Bersoza (.313), Hattier (.298).

In Murfreesboro the brotherhood the Dragons have shown all season will continue.

“How close we are. They are all brothers. They love each other. We are a tight knit bunch,” said Munier. “I am so proud. I couldn’t be happier. I am so lucky to be leading this program. I can’t thank the Lord enough.”

Second baseman Mitch Austin said, “We have been working so hard since August to play this game and to win it is even better. This is the best feeling I have had in awhile. It’s an awesome feeling. We are going to face a lot of good competition. I am not worried. My guys got my back. I have got their backs. We are going to compete. It’s a great team. We all love each other. We are going to do great things.”

Bersoza said, “Being with the guys and getting to know them better each day has developed me as a player and as a person. We haven’t quit on each other and ultimately that has been what has been our success. We are going to play our heart out. Win or lose, it’s all glory to God. I always keep God first in whatever I do.”