Jefferson County’s Tanner Woods looked up into the crowd at Smokies Stadium Friday night.
“Man, this is really cool,” Woods said. “It feels like a Smokies game out here. Things feel a little more normal tonight.”
Woods was one of 33 players in the East Tennessee High School Baseball League participating in the leagues All-Star Game in front of an estimated 1,200 fans. While the fans were spaced out and some wore face masks, the normal baseball chatter was back, including even the booing of umpire Randy Rogers, who during the week you can find roaming the halls at Jefferson County high school as their Athletic Director.
While the West team took down the East team, 8-3, the night wasn’t just about winners and losers. Starting with the senior game at 5 p.m., the night was a time to show off some of the best baseball players in the area.
“It was fun,” Woods said. “Just to be with guys who were in the same situation as I was (not getting their senior season), it feels good being out here. It’s different catching four or five different arms. But it’s always fun to explore and see what everyone else has got.”
Jeff County’s Garrett Owens got the start for the East team in the All-Star Game, throwing two scoreless innings one day after throwing six innings in the Pirates 13-1 win over Gatlinburg.
Morristown’s Bryson Kelley knocked in the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly. Later in the game, Morristown’s Camden Lovin jump started a rally in the fourth inning with a bunt single that loaded the bases. Lovin also pitched in the game, one of five pitchers that Woods caught behind the plate.
“Catching all those guys is really good practice for me,” Woods said. “Like the second guy who threw had a different arm angle (than Owens) so the ball was going to go in and out and move a lot. So, just to see different arms from the guys I see is extra practice.”
The night started with a senior game that pitted the “East vs. West.” Coincidence or not, the East side had Morristown East Seniors Kelley, Esten Devault, who was also on the All-Star team, Joey Johnson and Jacob Gossett on their roster. On the West side were Morristown West seniors Lovin, Tanner Beaver, Marshall Smith and Carson Barry. Jeff County’s Casey Allen and Owens also suited up for the West team.
At multiple times during the game, one might’ve thought they were at Trojan Park at Morristown West or Sherwood Park at Morristown East. During the first inning, Smith tagged out Gossett at the plate while Devault was at bat.
“I was kind of upset that he stole second base on me,” Smith said. “I saw him get a pretty big lead off of third on the first pitch and so I tried to back pick him and he just came straight home so I set myself up and got ready to make the tag.”
Later in the game, Barry, Johnson and Kelley each pitched, going up against batters from their cross-town rivals.
Then, in the top of the sixth, Smith, normally a catcher, came into the game to pitch with a 3-2 lead as he tried to close the game out. It was the first time Smith has pitched since he was 14. With the tying run on third, Smith got a groundball out to secure the win for his team.
“I always thought that I could go off the mound, but I’ve always been catching so I’ve never had the chance,” Smith said. “But, I saw my chance here and went out there in the sixth.”
Other moments during the night included an inside the park home run by Seymour’s A.J. Berry. Hardin Valley’s Mason Speanburgh took home the MVP with two hits and an RBI.
The All-Star’s from the Lakeway Area included Jeff County’s Woods, Allen and Owens, Morristown’s Lovin, Kelley and Devault and Newport’s Braydn Long and David Stinnett.
“It’s truly an honor to be out here,” Woods said. “I want to thank the Smokies for putting this together. It means a lot to not just me but all these other guys out here that we normally compete against. To be in this game is a true honor.”
The ETHSBL continues on Monday with Newport taking on South Doyle at 5 p.m. and Morristown against the Hardin Valley Knox Hawks at 7:30 p.m. Morristown is currently in fifth place, safely in a playoff spot.
“We just have to start winning more games and being more competitive,” Johnson said. “We have a really good team. If we go up there and have good at bats, I think we’ll be really good.”