1947 Hilltoppers put Science Hill on the map with state title

Science Hill’s 1947 team won the first official state championship game in Tennessee’s history and set a high standard for the program moving forward.

By Trey Williams

Science Hill won its fifth state baseball championship in 2021.

The Hilltoppers’ first state title came in 1947, the first year there was an official state champion in Tennessee.

It was the first of three state titles for coach John Broyles. His other two came in 1962-63 – the junior and senior seasons of shortstop/pitcher Steve Spurrier.

The ’47 team, which went 21-2, was led by pitchers Billy Joe Bowman and Ralph Carrier. Bowman was the power pitcher, but could also locate his curveball. Carrier was a curveball specialist.

Each pitched in the minors. Bowman, who went on to coach for parts of three decades with the Houston Astros, had a lengthy minor league career, as did catcher John Mackley.

Bowman, the older brother of former San Francisco Giants shortstop Ernie Ferrell Bowman, went on to play at the University of Tennessee.

Ferrell Bowman played some shortstop for the Giants in the ’62 World Series. Billy Joe, then a sophomore, won two games and homered in the 1951 College World Series while helping the Volunteers finish runner-up to Oklahoma.

The ’51 Tennessee team was the last SEC team to start 16-1 until the top-ranked Volunteers matched the feat this weekend with a win against Florida.

Willis Sexton was arguably Science Hill’s most talented player in ’47, according to a number of players from that team. Sexton led off and played center field.

“Sexton, boy, I tell you what, he hit some home runs that were pro-type home runs when he was in high school,” the late Billy Joe Bowman said in 2017. “But he was always a guy, you know, if there was something to get in trouble over, it seemed like he was always in it.”

Bowman was a unanimous All-Big Five Conference selection in ’47. Sexton, Carrier and first baseman Louis Copp also made the team.

Shortstop Bobby Rowe went on to play shortstop for East Tennessee State, where he hit in the middle of the lineup and was one of the Buccaneers’ premier players.

Bobby Leonard was Science Hill’s cocky third baseman. The outfield included Dick “Chesty” Shepard and Estel “Pete” Deloach. Jack Chinouthplayed second base when Carrier pitched.

Science Hill baseball coach Ryan Edwards (back row) in 2017 with (from left to right) Bobby Rowe, Bobby Leonard and Billy Joe Bowman. Rowe is the last living member of the 1947 team. Photo by Trey Williams

Science Hill defeated Christian Brothers of Memphis 3-0 in the ’47 state championship game in Nashville. Carrier relieved Bowman in the fourth inning and escaped after inheriting the bases loaded.

Copp’s single scored Shephard in the fifth and Sexton’s two-run single drove in Bowman and Leonard in the sixth.

Christian Brothers’ Mark Freeman took the loss after entering the game undefeated (12-0). Copp had two of the seven hits Freeman allowed.

In the semifinals, Bowman and Carrier had combined to blank Franklin in a 1-0 win. Bowman gave up one hit in 5 1/3 innings.

“I had to leave the game because of a blister,” he said.

No worries. Carrier struck out three in 1 2/3 innings.

“I never saw Ralph lose his cool,” Bowman said.

Their combined shutout was imperative. Science Hill only got two hits off J.B. Chester.

“Ralph Carrier had a really good curveball,” Bowman said. “He’d come three-quarters, and he could pinpoint that curveball as good as anybody that age – even up here (at the Appalachian League level).”

Carrier played two seasons in the Appalachian League (Pulaski in 1949 and Kingsport in 1951) and went 10-7 with the Lamesa Lobos (Texas) in the New Mexico League in 1952.

Bowman pitched in the minors (1953-59) and went 11-3 for Johnson City in 1953. He finished his career in Houston when the Buffs were a minor league team.

“I bet there haven’t been any two pitchers since Billy Joe and Ralph – any two pitchers at one time – that were as tough as those two,” Leonard said. “I mean, John Broyles would just throw one, then throw the other and we just mowed ‘em down.”

Bowman pitched a no-hitter against Chattanooga Central in the state quarterfinals in Maryville. He struck out nine, walked three and hit a batter in the Hilltoppers’ 10-0 win.

Science Hill got three hits from Mackley, who, 60 years later, recalled the state title upping the athletic department’s fundraising game.

“We were wearing patched-up things (uniforms),” Mackley said. “People started showing up at the games after the state championship and donating money so we could go to tournaments. It was Science Hill’s first state championship (in any team sport).”

Leonard made sure his teammates weren’t too tight. Seventy years after winning the state title he smiled when Rowe recalled an awkward incident against Tennessee High, which Leonard’s swagger caused.

Between innings, Leonard told Rowe if a ball was hit hard to him at third base that he was going to immediately flip it to Rowe at shortstop.

“And sure enough, he did,” Rowe said.

Of course, Rowe had no choice but to hurriedly throw the ball to first base to retire the runner with the rare 5-6-3 put-out.

“Boy, that made Bristol mad,” Leonard said 70 years later, mischief still twinkling in his eyes.

A smiling Rowe just shook his head when Leonard recalled the play.

“He knew he was getting it to the stronger arm,” Rowe said.

Added Leonard: “I liked to try to keep us loose.”

The late Carrier said Broyles did allow a relaxed dugout.

“We had a pretty good hitting team that year and Mr. Broyles left us alone,” Carrier said. “He didn’t bug us much. He just said, ‘Go out and play.’”

Some of the players joked through the years – perhaps they were joking, at least – that the majority of Broyles’ instruction came while many of the players helped him work his tobacco on a farm where Target is now located. Part of the compensation could come in the form of watermelons, which many of the players would consume at nearby Cox’s Lake.

“It was a great way to spend a summer day,” Leonard said, “if there wasn’t a baseball game to play. We put Science Hill on the map.”


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