By Trey Williams
The Science Hill baseball program had plenty to Crowe about in the late 1990s.
Brandon Crowe, then a junior, was the state player of the year and state tournament Most Valuable Player after leading the Hilltoppers to a state title in 1998.
His brother Nick started as a freshman on that team, and later spent three years as Brandon’s teammate for Rod Delmonico’s Tennessee Volunteers.
“There wasn’t anything that wasn’t just full-blown competition and ‘I’m gonna win’ with me and Nick,” Brandon said Sunday night.
Their father Steve was a good athlete at Science Hill and his father Maynard was a standout at Boones Creek in football and baseball. Maynard, who many compared Nick to while watching him run the bases, played for years in the semipro leagues where the likes of major leaguers such as Ferrell Bowman, Jim Constable and Joe McClain spent time.
Maynard was a fixture with the Johnson City Parks and Rec for parts of five decades.
“If there was a ballgame, he was raring to go, that’s for sure,” Brandon said. “He turned down the San Francisco Giants to go the stockyard with his buddies. It was just a different time back then.”
Brandon said genetics were the biggest factor in his success.
“I tell people probably 90 percent of it was God-given ability, five percent was hard work and the other five was just good fortune, I guess,” he said. “We worked, but luckily the good Lord gave us the ability to put in the work.”
Brandon was a hard-throwing, 6-foot, 185-pounder. During his junior season in ’98 he had 0.89 ERA and struck out 122 batters and walked 15 in 87 innings. He compiled a 13-1 record.
He also batted .456 with five home runs, 31 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. He walked 25 times while striking out only nine times.
He ended his high school career with a 1.12 ERA and 402 strikeouts in 268 innings. He went 31-7 and tallied 10 saves while hitting .441. He was a two-time all-state selection.
“Those numbers are unbelievable,” said Bernie Young, who became the Science Hill head coach prior to the 1998 season. “What I liked about the Crowe brothers more than anything was they were so competitive. They would cut your throat to beat you, buddy. Kids aren’t like that anymore.”
Science Hill beat Germantown, which was ranked No. 6 in the nation by USA Today, two straight games to clinch the state title in Winchester. Brandon pitched the final game. He retired the first 11 batters he faced and threw six shutout innings before tiring in the seventh.
“I remember telling one of the guys that got a hit, ‘You’re just delaying the inevitable. You’re going to lose,’” said Brandon, who helped his cause with two hits, two RBIs, a walk and three runs scored.
The celebratory dogpile is what Brandon remembers most vividly, which is understandable when you’re on the bottom of a pile that 6-foot-6 future Central Florida football player and 6-foot-4 future ETSU football player Mike Rader were launching themselves onto.
“I just kind of got goosebumps hearing ‘dogpile,’” Brandon said. “That was a whole lot of weight on top of me. But that’s the kind of stuff I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
Science Hill finished with a 33-8 record. Germantown ended up 35-4. It was Science Hill that spent much of the ’99 season in the national rankings.
“The ‘99 season, people don’t really think too much about that one, but the ‘99 team was even better than the ‘98 team, to be honest,” Brandon said. “Me and Nick (were a year older). Brian was a year older. I mean we lost some key contributors with Blake (Kaylor), Dennis Higdon and Mike Rader, but there were just a couple of bounces that didn’t go our way in ‘99.
“Not to take anything away from the ‘98 team. Both seasons were unbelievable.”
Playing for Bob Dempsey during his first two seasons, Brandon says, was an invaluable experience.
“Nobody talks about Dempsey anymore, but Dempsey is owed a lot of credit for that ‘98 team too – that he did not get and he rightfully should have gotten,” Brandon said. “I think the world of Bob Dempsey. And I mean, nothing against Bernie now, but I honestly think we could’ve won it in ‘98 with Dempsey, too.”
As a freshman, Crowe led Tennessee with three saves and was 2-0 as a starter. He had 3.69 ERA.
Brandon went 6-0 slate with three saves and a team-best 3.68 ERA as a sophomore despite missing the final month with elbow tendinitis.
He beat Florida and South Carolina in back-to-back starts and he was named the SEC pitcher of the week after throwing 11 shutout innings in two outings against the Gators while recording a save and a win.
“I came in and got the save on Friday night,” Brandon said. “I pitched like three innings Friday night and then came back and threw like seven or eight on Sunday. And I think I only gave up a couple of runs or whatever. So that weekend was pretty special.”
When Nick arrived for the 2002 season, Brandon was sitting out due to have Tommy John Surgery. But he had his moments in 2003. He went 4-1 on the mound, and since he was playing in Johnson City, he came out of the bullpen to pitch 6 1/3 innings for a victory against East Tennessee State.
But reuniting with Nick was most memorable. Brothers who attended Cherokee Elementary School were suddenly calling Lindsey Nelson Stadium home.
“When he came to UT I ended up moving back to the freshman dorms and living with him,” Brandon said. “And it was a lot of late nights of just kind of reminiscing, like look where we came from to where we are now kind of things and those proud moments. And every game you look up there and you see your parents in the stands. It’s kind of a surreal thing. And then every once in a while we’d get Maynard to come down when my dad would be able to home to bring him. He actually rode down with (former Major League Baseball umpire) Dale Ford a couple of times.
“We were probably 50 feet away from going to Davy Crockett … in Carter Crossing (subdivision). You’re basically talking about two Jonesborough boys that went to Tennessee. We loved it.”
Now, Brandon is married (Rebekah) and has three sons – Cainan, Corban and Cooper. All three are ballplayers. Cainan, the oldest, started as a freshman at Carter this season.
“Cainan was the District 3A rookie of the year,” Brandon said. “The sixth grader (Corban) played varsity on middle school team. And the 6-year-old (Cooper) finished his season on Saturday. They finished undefeated.”
Brandon’s father Steve said the brothers’ competitiveness reminds him of Brandon and Nick.
“My boys are the exact same way,” Brandon said. “The 15-year-old will not let the 6-year-old win at anything. And honestly, that’s why the 6-year-old is so advanced compared to some of his buddies.
“My dad says my boys are exactly the same as we were. We were taught to leave it all on the field.”