Crockett’s state title drive came up just short in 1978


By Trey Williams

David Crockett’s baseball team powered its way to the state championship three-game series in 1978, but the Pioneers’ odds suddenly got longer in Nashville’s Herschel Greer Stadium.

It was the cavernous new home of the Nashville Sounds, a Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

Crockett’s coach then, Warren “Sonny” Miller, still shakes his head thinking about the ballpark’s lengthy dimensions impacting a potential championship.

The Pioneers lost in two games to Montgomery Bell Academy. The first loss was 4-2. MBA trailed 2-0 before scoring four in the bottom of the sixth.

Game 2 took eight innings. MBA scored five in the eighth to win, 8-3.

Crockett was led by center fielder/pitcher Dale Scott, shortstop Mike Martin and pitcher Jeff Harold.

Scott went on to be an all-district player on a Cleveland State team that advanced to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado. Martin played for outstanding ETSU teams coached by Charley Lodes.

The Pioneers had a lineup of batters capable of hitting the long ball. Martin hit three home runs en route to a regional title in ’78. Catcher Bobby Oliver hit three home runs during the district tournament.

“The only thing I remember about those games in Nashville was if we’d played in any other park in America we would’ve won,” a chuckling Miller said Sunday. “We played in that big ole Nashville Sounds park – the first games that had ever been played in it. And Martin hit one in the last inning that would’ve been out anyplace else but there – anyplace else. He hit it to the fence and they caught it in the last inning. That would have been the go-ahead runs. The park was so big that the Sounds didn’t hit many home runs in it that year so they reduced the size of the field the next year.

“We hit a lot of home runs and I know we didn’t hit a home run in that ballpark. Those were probably the first (postseason) games we didn’t hit any home runs.”

Crockett was in the Inter-Mountain Athletic Conference with the likes of Greeneville, Morristown West, Morristown East and Cocke County. Miller said East and West and Jefferson County had good teams that season.

Scott struck out six while allowing six hits and no walks when the Pioneers defeated Science Hill 2-1 in the regional semifinals. The Hilltoppers were led by shortstop-pitcher Gary Carter and pitcher Gary McConnell, who had a 7-0 record before suffering a season-ending loss to Scott and the Pioneers. Carter drove in Science Hill’s lone run in the sixth inning after a Tony Bible triple to get Science Hill within 2-1.

“Gary Carter was tough,” Scott said. “Godamighty, he was a hitting machine. … We all thought they’s gonna pitch Gary Carter. We thought it was gonna be me and him facing off that night. But I guess they figured they’s gonna pitch Gary McConnell and probably beat us and, you know, save Gary Carter.

“And believe me, Gary Carter was a little hot. He was hot as a firecracker after the game.”

Crockett defeated Murfreesboro Oakland 6-1 in the state semifinals in Tullahoma. Scott struck out 11 in the complete-game victory.

He pitched all eight innings in the state championship loss to MBA.

“Really, Dale just battled you on the mound,” said Miller, who coached the Crockett program from its beginning in 1972 until ‘97. “His forte was that he was a great baseball player. The scouts all came to see him play in the outfield and bat, because he really didn’t throw hard enough to be a pitching prospect. But he could throw it in a quart cup and battle you and was a great pitcher for high school.

“But what everybody wanted to see him do was play defense and bat. I thought for sure that Cincinnati was going to draft him high but they didn’t. They scouted him an awful lot.”

Martin, Crockett’s cleanup-hitting shortstop, went 5-for-9 for ETSU in the Atlantic Regional at Clemson in 1980.

“He was a good ballplayer,” Miller said. “He made very, very few errors at shortstop. You wanted ‘em to hit it to him.”

Second baseman Ronnie Hamilton led off for Crockett.

“Ronnie Hamilton was a sparkplug,” Miller said. “I mean, he was a fireball. He kept everybody on their toes hustling. I remember one time he led off – he was the first batter and we were the visiting team – and he popped up to the infield. And he got back in the dugout and said, ‘We’ll kill this bunch.’ He was fired up because he popped up and missed his pitch.”

Harold, a junior in ’78, was dependable on the mound and had a good curveball.

“The best I remember, Jeff didn’t lose a game his sophomore and junior years,” Miller said. “He had really good command. He had a motorcycle wreck and missed part of his sophomore year and he couldn’t pitch a lot. He’d pitched his sophomore year some, but because of the wreck he’d been limited.”

Harold finished 9-1 in ’78. The loss was in the first game to MBA.

Scott’s single scored Jimmy Adams to give the Pioneers a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth.

But MBA eventually got to Harold in the 4-2 win. The winning pitcher was power pitcher Barry Ralston, who pitched at Vanderbilt and once walked nine Florida Gators in a game. Ralston pitched the eighth inning the following day in Game 2.

“Good gosh, he was throwing in the 90s,” Scott said.

Adams, an outfielder, batted second for Crockett. First baseman Jimmy Wagner hit fifth. Oliver, designated hitter Jeff Vest, outfielder Tommy Pruitt and third baseman Tony Chandler batted sixth through ninth, respectively, in the championship. Bobby France was a solid outfielder.

The Pioneers combined to hit 11 home runs in the regional and district tournaments. Martin (four), Oliver (three), Hamilton (two), Pruitt (one) and Adams (one) all went deep in the postseason.

“They could all hit,” Miller said. “Tommy Pruitt hit one in the divisional to beat a Knoxville team in the regional down there. That’s what we did best – hit the ball.”

Scott initially signed to play for ETSU, but opted to join Oliver at Cleveland State. Dave Britton was Crockett’s assistant.

“It was a great bunch,” Miller said. “The team was very special to me. Every kid on there I liked. They were so much fun to be around and just great kids. You just enjoyed ‘em. …

“And they could play some ball. We could have (won it all).”


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