By Trey Williams
Bryson Tolley’s toughness has long been apparent.
Science Hill’s two-sport standout led the Hilltoppers in tackles two seasons from his linebacker position. He did it this past season despite beginning the year with cracked ribs.
And Tolley tackled like a senior even when he was a sophomore, physically taking down Maryville ball-carriers in a manner that drew praise from Rebels coaches.
But the mental toughness of the Tennessee Tech football signee might’ve best been captured on the baseball diamond Monday at Daniel Boone’s Clarence Mabe Field.
Tolley was making his first career start on the mound in a do-or-die District 1-AAA tournament game against David Crockett. He said he probably hadn’t thrown more than 25-30 pitches since having Tommy John Surgery when he was 15 years old, and his total innings pitched this season prior to Monday’s elimination game was six.
Hilltoppers coach Ryan Edwards was hoping to get three innings out of Tolley. Instead, Tolley pitched a three-hitter.
In a surreal showcase of passion, Tolley cranked out a 109-pitch gem in a 10-2 victory that got Science Hill within a victory of a regional tournament berth.
“I just told him yesterday, ‘Just give me whatever you can,’” Edwards said. “And I mean he felt good the whole time. So he gave us seven (innings). I mean he’s got the heart of a lion.”
Tolley got stronger as the game went along. Five of his 10 strikeouts came in the final two innings.
“Coming into the game I knew my arm usually gave out at about 25 or 30 pitches,” Tolley said. “So I tried to just stay relaxed, not try to overthrow it. And then once I got to the sixth inning, I mean, I could see the lights at the end of the tunnel, and that’s when I started throwing a little bit harder.”
Was it adrenaline generated by knowing his career could come to an end that fueled the stamina.
“I guess so; it’s crazy,” said Tolley, who couldn’t help but wonder if he could’ve potentially pitched similar outings before his career reached its twilight. “Obviously, I can look back now and say yes. But this is the first time that I’ve pitched where I haven’t thrown 30 pitches and my arm absolutely be killing me.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know why it’s not hurting. I mean right now it doesn’t hurt at all.”
Tolley appeared to be throwing at least in the mid-80s (mph), and his velocity surely peaked in the latter innings.
“He got his breaking ball going there in the middle innings,” Edwards said. “And that at least kept them off the fastball a little bit late. … He just pitched an excellent game.”
Tolley also went 2-for-4 at the plate and drove in two runs.
“It’s just crazy,” Tolley said. “I mean it’s like when you’re in the seventh and eighth grade, you go out there and throw seven innings and you hit the ball – it’s just a great feeling. And then coming out here, it just means so much more, finally getting back out there after I had Tommy John Surgery. Because honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to throw a game like that again.
“And doing it here for my teammates and stuff it means everything to me, means the world to me. We had our backs against the wall, I guess, and loser-go-home. It feels good to be able to do it for them and our coaching staff as well.”
Battery mate Ben Mottern helped Tolley’s cause, going 2-for-3 with two runs. Shortstop Tilo Skole (1-for-2, walk), center fielder Jacob Beaird and second baseman David Bryant (1-for-3, walk) all scored two runs and had an RBI.
Science Hill, the second seed after losing a coin flip with regular season co-champion Dobyns-Bennett, was scheduled to play third-seeded Tennessee High in the losers’ bracket final on Tuesday. Dobyns-Bennett awaits the winner in the championship, which is scheduled for Wednesday. An if-necessary game is scheduled for Thursday.
Tennessee High put the ‘Toppers in the losers’ bracket with a 9-2 win on Sunday.
David Crockett’s season, which produced a 15-18-1 record, had its moments. The overachieving Pioneers got a complete game from Bo Britton while eliminating Daniel Boone with a 5-4 victory in the first round of the district tournament.
Boone had ended Crockett’s season at the same juncture last season.
Britton struck out five and walked five while scattering eight hits. Two of the four runs he allowed were unearned.
It was sweet redemption for Britton, who had a no-hitter going through five innings before leaving after seven with a no-decision in the Pioneers’s 3-2, nine-inning loss to Boone on April 25.
“It couldn’t be more perfect,” Britton said. “I was happy and proud of my team. I love putting Boone out of it. I love beating Boone in anything.”
David Crockett senior catcher Will Long concluded his impressive career by hitting a home run off Tolley in his final game. Long, who will play at Tusculum College, also looked like a hockey goalie while adeptly blocking numerous pitches in the dirt.
Senior center fielder Jake Chandler went 3-for-4 with an RBI in his final game for the coach Rob Hoover’s Trailblazers, who finished the season with a 17-11 record.
In the District 1-AAA softball tournament, top-seeded Daniel Boone (32-5) advanced to Tuesday’s winners’ bracket final with an 11-2 win against No. 4 Sullivan Central. Savannah Russell (13-1) got the victory.
Boone will take on second-seeded David Crockett (20-18), which reached the winners’ bracket final thanks to a 10-0 win against Tennessee High and a 1-0 triumph against third-seeded Dobyns-Bennett. Kara Weems pitched a two-hitter against D-B.
The softball championship game is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Kingsport’s Indian Highland Park. The if-necessary game would follow on Friday at 5:30 p.m.