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Dragons ranked No. 1 in state

Dragons ranked No. 1 in state

By Bill Sorrell

Photo by Kevin Lewter

Collierville starting pitcher Jack Dougherty, turned reliever in the District 15-AAA opener against Germantown on Friday, struck out six batters, including three on nine pitches, as the Dragons showed off another reason why they are ranked No. 1 in the state.
“We have the potential to be a great team. Now we have to go out and prove it. We have got everything, the arms, the bats, the defense. We have to go out there and win, pitch by pitch, inning by inning,” said Collierville second baseman Mitch Austin.
The 6-1 victory at Germantown improved the Dragons to 17-2, 1-0 in district. They are ranked No. 24 in the nation.
A junior who has committed to Ole Miss, Dougherty pitched two innings of hitless baseball allowing only a walk to first baseman Ethan Payne.
Grayson Munyon , who improved his record to 2-0, pitched four innings and struck out four batters.
A three-run seventh inning sealed the victory. A single by Gabriel Nicholson opened it.
Ty Leatherwood singled and Nicholson scored after two errors. Leatherwood scored on a wild pitch and Collin Causey, a courtesy runner for Sam Poindexter, who had walked, scored on Austin’s sacrfice fly.
Germantown pitcher Tyler Miller got out of a jam in the sixth inning after Collierville loaded the bases. Riley Davis and Francisco Cartaya reached base on errors and Noah Hattier walked. Two of Miller’s three strikeouts for the game ended the Dragons’ threat.
“If you can’t be energized by that,” Germantown head coach Casey Callaway told his team.
“We played the No. 1 and No. 2 (Houston) teams in the state today in a doubleheader. We were right in the game in the fifth of both of them and we didn’t push through mentally and didn’t finish out games. If we finish out games and keep playing our game, we can make a different outcome.
“The score is not inidicative of what it was. It was a 3-1 game in the sixth. We made some mistakes in the last inning and gave them some cheap runs. We were one swing away. We had some things that could have gone a different way and it’s nothing on anyone, that happens. It’s baseball. We were one hop away or one mistake away and we are right there.
“I would have liked to see that pick us up a little bit more. You have the bases loaded in a 2-run game and we get out of it defensively. That has got to turn into some energy for us on offense. it didn’t tonight. It will down the road but great job on the mound for Tyler in that circumstance. He showed a lot of grit and a lot of competitiveness.”
Zachary Jackson came in to relieve Dougherty and pitched one inning. He allowed no hits.
The Dragons got 6 hits while Germantown got 5.
The team’s leading hitter Ty Leatherwood got three while Nicholson, Davis, Charlie Sweet each added one.
“The best thing about tonight was probably the one I hit to first base with two outs. He bobbled it and we took the lead 2-1 and it got going from there. We kept hitting. We hit hard deeper in the game,” said Leatherwood, who is the team’s leading batter with a .400 average along with Austin.
Decommitting from Middle Tennessee, Leatherwood plans to play at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Austin is being recruited by Memphis and Arkansas State.
He has visited both schools and like both.
Arkansas State’s “term is to have fun. Everyting they do is to have fun. They have their own little community. It looked like a great place to fit in,” said Austin, a junior. “Memphis is great. They have great coaches. Coach (Clay) Greene is a great hitting coach.. They have great veternas. I’d love to be a part of it.”
Against Germantown, Austin said that he did not have his best game.
“I came out a little flat. Riley did a great job behind the plate and hit he ball well. Gabe started that inning off and scored three runs. He just kept the train going. That was a good inning (seventh).”
Nicholson scored a team-high two runs. Leatherwood, Poindexter, Davis, Sweet also were part of the Dragons’ scoring. Collierville’s first run came on a balk.
Germantown’s Kalani Shapiro tied the game in the second.
Scotty Mitchell, Payne Smith, Noel Winston, Weber Denman, Liam Henager got hits for the Red Devils, who dropped to 9-5, 0-2 in district.
Collierville assistant coach Brandon Shemwell said, “Offensively we were kind of shaky tonight. We have been hitting the ball well the past frew games but faced a guy (Miller) who had a lot of good off-speed and kpet our hitters off-balance. He threw a lot of strikes. We were out in front on a lot of balls but you just got to manufacture runs and find a way to win. I thought we did that tonight.
“Ty Leatherwood is starting off strong, It seems like every time we needed him to get a hit he gets the job done. He is a scrappy guy who hits very well on plus counts. When it gets to two counts, you want that guy up there because he is going to battle and put the ball in play and a lot of good things happen for him. He puts the ball in play on two strikes. He only has two strikeouts the whole year.
“I thought our approach changed around the third or fourth inning. The first few innings we tried to pull the ball a lot and we were out in front on a lot of balls. We hit a lot of rollovers. I thought we did an exceptional job at the end of the game. We were able to string a few hits together and score some runs”
Leatherwood and Davis “have really hit the ball well and Gabe Nicholson our leadoff, was at the bottom of the order at the beginning of the year and he kind of strung up to the top. We thought we would give him a shot and he hasn’t looked back since. He has given us a big pickup at the beginning of the lineup,” said Shemwell.
“I think they are scrappy. They are fighters. When they come on the field, they get after it. They love the game of baseball. In batting practice they are there an hour early.”
Leatherwood said the team has bonded and are “real close” with coaches and each other.
“We have got a pretty good district and should come out on top.We are playing pretty well this year. As long as our bats stay hot, we’ll be fine.”
Both Austin and Leatherwood called Dougherty “a stud.”
“It helps to know I have confidence in my defense behind me. I go out there and throw strikes and it just happened they weren’t hitting tonight,” said Dougherty, whose fast ball reaches 91 mph. “The biggest part of our game is our base running. The way we play offensively really helps our pitchers get some breathing room and that is a huge part.
“Coming out of the bullpen was a little different. Once I got out there everything fell into place.”
Wearing a cross given to him by his grandparents Al and Pat Lister, Dougherty said that he leans on his faith.
“Religion has been a big part of my family. That is something I keep out there with me while I am playing.”
During a visit to Ole Miss his sophomore year, he “fall in love” with the campus and coaching staff.
“They have a great program and I would love to be a part of it.”
Collierville head coach Jeff Munier missed the game. He was returnin from his father’s funeral in Illinois.
Callaway said Dougherty puts the ball in the zone.
“We tried to swing too hard and he is going to be a strike thrower. We knew that. We swung hard because he was throwing hard. If we had a little different apporach at him and try to move the ball we probably could have had some success. He throws with velocity and did really well.”
Payne said, “You have to approach every pitch. He (Dougherty) is a good pitcdher. He is going to Ole Miss for a reason. You have to go in there and be on time and hit his fast ball.”
Payne Smith said, “You have to step in the box, be ready to sit on that first ptich. If you are waiting you are going to get beat.”
Callaway said the Red Devils are deeper than in the past and can interchange players.
“Program wise from top to bottom they have bought in and wanted to be successful. They have a different mentality. They seem to want it a little bit more. We have to grind it out through the end of the games. We have some postitive thoughts about how we started the games. We thought we were in the mix, ready to go after it.”
Mitchell, the leadoff hitter, leads the Red Devils in batting average.
Said Payne, “There are a lot of guys who can play everywhewre. You might end up seeing me in the outfield.”
“Scotty and Ethan, if they go we have some success but one through nine- guys have come up with big hits throughout the season so far and we have to keep trying to put it togther.
“Our guys are here for high school baseball. It’s not about getting to college, about being a pro athelte. These guys want to compete at the high school level. We can see what we can do this year. The thing that people wouldn’t know about us is that we make the best of second chances.”
Payne Smith, who has a .350 batting average and has committed to Christian Brothers University, said the goal is to have “huge momentum” late in the season.
Payne, who has signed to play at Tennessee, wants to teach his teammates more of the game.
“I think it has helped and I will continue to do that througout the season. I want to learn from the things I did wrong and improve my craft, hitting, the mound. I want to make sure before I get there that I am ready to face the best of the best (SEC).” Payne’s batting average is .270.
He has learned from Callaway, a former college coach.
“He says what a collete coach would say. I am learning form him. Our coaches, all except one, played baseball in college,” said Payne
Payne Smith said, “They do a really good job of keeping you positive. You may be down a couple of runs or strike out but you come back to the dugout and they say, ‘Good swing. You’ll get them next time.’ That really helps.”
Smith expects Germantown to be playing Houston and Collierville at the end of the season.
“You definitely take advantage of the big games and seeing what they have got and putting your best foot forward so when you play them in May you are ready.”
“One hundred percent” the state champion could come out of Memphis said Payne.
“Collierville and Houston have been solid for five or six years. We are just now coming up along with them. It’s exciting to know that we play a lot of good baseball in Memphis. There are always teams playing at a very high level.”