Although the baseball season is long over, a few of Johnson Countys very talented team are still keeping their game fresh by playing in a special fall league made up of travel teams that play all across the region. Unlike the regular season or even summer ball, the fall features teams made up of some of the best players from high schools all over East Tennessee. Two teams in particular, Edge Baseball and the Tricities Bombers, have Longhorns in their roster. Pitcher Andy Woods and shortstop Judd Hammons have been a strong asset for Edge, while pitcher Ryan Mahala has carried the mound for the Bombers this year.
Traveling as far away as Cleveland, Tennessee and Spartanburg, South Carolina, both teams have had opportunities to play against some of the biggest talent that the Southeast has to offer, a fact that many college scouts also take notice of. Last Saturday both teams finally had the opportunity to play against one another at Tusculum College in Greene County. Hammons and Mahala were both out with injuries, leaving Woods to represent the Longhorns on his own. Yet coaches for both teams emphasized the impact that their Johnson County players have made.
I really like Judd, said Edge Coach Nate Reed. Hes a good player, a go getter. Hes made some real progression in the time Ive worked with him. I see him as someone who can play at the next level. Its the same thing with Andy. A lot of the guys have got to work on some stuff, but hes a good player, very effective on the mound. Hes a tall, lengthy kid but hes still kind of growing into it. I think highly of both of them. Theyre both good kids and I think that both of them do have a chance of doing something at the next level.
Likewise, Tri-Cities coach Jarrod Payne had nothing but praise for Mahala. Ryan has just been incredible, Payne said. He went down to Spartanburg with us to pitch against a junior college team, who went to the World Series last year in Colorado. He pitched against them and we only lost 5-2 against one of the best junior colleges in the nation. He was throwing 81-84 and he threw five strikeouts and two walks that game, and then the next game turned around against a team out of Georgia and had nine strikeouts. Hes been phenomenal. Hes been our number one so far.
Although the Bombers came away with a strong win over Edge 10-0, both teams have had a lot of success so far this season. We are close to .500 as a team, said Reed. Weve been in a lot of ball games and this is the first time weve really been blown out but were still getting to know each other. This is three or four weeks that weve been playing together but weve still got to get to know each other a little bit.
One of the big challenges that travel ball coaches face is pulling a group of players from various backgrounds together into a team, but as both coaches pointed out, this is also one of the big benefits of playing. I think its good for them, because obviously theyre going to have to move on past high school and get to play with other people, so theyre going to have to adapt. Its a good chance for some of them to see where they stand talent wise against other good players in the area, said Reed.
Echoing this sentiment Coach Payne went on to add, I think fall ball is unique. You get to see where different guys have come from; you get so see every angle and see how these guys have developed at their particular schools. I like it. Its almost like you get to put an all-star team together and its very fun. You get all these guys from different schools and see how they start working together. I tell them all the time that Im going to coach and have fun with it but Im not worried if I win as coach of the Tricities Bombers, Im worried about them getting better. I want to make sure that they get seen by the colleges and get put in a position to succeed. You get all these guys from all these different schools and they come out and start playing like a team, it really makes you feel like youve done a decent job.
Even more importantly for their high school careers, players like Mahala, Hammons, and Woods are able to utilize the extra practice and experience to improve their personal game. I think the biggest benefit for them is that theyre still swinging, said Reed. Fall is the time when a lot of kids at the high school level are taking time off and its good for them to get out here. Regardless of loss or win theyre still getting their at bats every week. I think highly of them just for playing fall ball because it is more of commitment than a lot of kids are willing to put into it. It will all pay off for them in the long run.
Many of the players on the travel teams, including those from Johnson County are returning for their second or third seasons. Some, like Andy Woods actually played for one team and are now on the other. The team we played tonight I was on last year, Woods said. I knew those kids because a lot of them played last year too. You get to know everybody and you just come together as a team. It makes it better during the regular season because you get to play them and then after the game you stray off and then they stray off and you come together to talk. Thats the way it was last year. Last year I played for Tri-Cities and theyre a good team but I like Edge a lot better. There are a lot of kids from our conference on this team.
In fact Woods was not the only player to contemplate a run on the Bombers team before switching to Edge. According to Coach Payne, We wanted to have Judd Hammons on the team. Coach Perkins asked us about having him play with us and I would have loved to have him but I already had two or three middle infielders coming back and I didnt want to put them in a more complicated situation. Judds a good player and it would have been good to have him for sure.
However, as Woods pointed out, part of the fun of playing fall ball is the fact that the teammates dont necessarily know one another. Weve got a bunch of players from different schools that have come together to try to play. We havent had all that many practices but were getting to know new people and weve had to bring together all of our talent. Were just trying to come out here and play ball and get in shape for our regular seasons and giving showcases to college scouts to get our name out there and prove what different counties have challenge wise. Some of them we know from playing school ball, we know them from being on the field with them and have heard of them and thats easier, Woods said.
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