Baseball in Monroe County in 2021 brought a number of firsts and milestones that are not seen every year.
After missing the chance to play in the spring one year ago, numbers of sophomores turned seniors and players with only freshman year experience were forced into leadership roles for their respective squads.
While the All-County team may not tell all those storylines, it recognizes the best of the best at playing ball and what led a year that saw two teams reach the region tournament as well as a sectional berth.
Heath Ware, in his third season as the head coach of Tellico Plains, continued the growing trajectory for the Bears. Not only did Ware’s team set a new record for wins in a season — they shattered it. A 3-1 record in the county and a 23-7 record overall tell how successful the Bears were.
Keep in mind that Ware did this with a junior-heavy squad. In other words, a core team that has not played at the varsity level entering the season. The accomplishments did not stop there.
For the third time in program history, and second time under Ware, the Bears reached the regional tournament. Add in a 3-2 late win over Oneida, and Ware led Tellico Plains to the program’s first ever region championship and state tournament appearance.
For the Sweetwater Wildcats, no one was as effective as their three hole guy — Ty Ezell. Ezell, a senior, finished with an average of .360, an on base percentage of .550 and a .733 slugging. His .360 average was the best of any Sweetwater batter who had more than four plate appearances.
Ezell’s 27 hits were the third most for Sweetwater and fifth most in the county. He led the Cats in doubles (9), triples (5), home runs (3) and RBIs (28). Ezell leads the county in triples and RBIs and comes in second in doubles and home runs — by one each.
On the mound, the county saw several strong performances, but no arm came near matching 100 strikeouts from Sequoyah’s Sam Raper. The senior finished the year with 106 strikeouts and an ERA at 1.82.
No arm in the county was probably used as much as the Bryan College signee — who allowed only 15 earned runs in 57.2 innings pitched. Raper ended the season with six wins in his 13 starts.
He also led the county with four home runs and posted 27 RBIs — tied for second most among the three schools.
Jayce Upton ended his junior season with a .327/.439/.396 stat line. Coming in second in average on Sweetwater, Upton was a key to the Cats team that made a run to the region tournament.
Upton led Sweetwater in hits (33) as well as singles (27). His hits were the fourth most in the county. He finished the season with 276 runs scored and 17 RBIs.
Bo Elliott was a menace behind the plate in single A baseball. Arguably one of the best catchers in the class, Elliott will move his game from Tellico Plains to the collegiate level at Trinity International next spring.
Elliot wrapped the year up with .353 average and a .505 on base percentage. The senior also posted 24 hits and 22 RBIs — the sixth most in the county. Elliott’s six doubles were the second most for Tellico Plains while he added 13 runs.
While Tellico Plains was well known for the aggressive baserunning, they didn’t give up much on the base pads defensively — in large part to Elliott’s experience and presence.
Ben Edwards was a major part of the Bears in a number of ways. Batting in the three hole and leading the team, and second most in the county, in innings pitched the Bears’ success cannot be talked about without mentioning the junior.
Edwards finished the season with an ERA of 1.99 after facing 206 batters — allowing only 13 earned runs. His ERA is the second lowest of anyone who pitched more than five innings in the county and he wrapped up a successful 2021 with 41 strikeouts — the most for Tellico Plains and third most in the county.
At the plate, Edwards posted a .378/.427/.883 while leading the Bears in singles (27) and third most in hits (34). His 27 RBIs were the most of any Bear and put him tied for second most in the county — one shy of a tie for county leader. His seven doubles were the best for Tellico Plains and in the top five of the county.
If Edwards is considered the ace at Tellico Plains, then Cade Scoggins is not far behind him at all. Trusted to go against University High in the Class A Sectional, Scoggins held an offense that averaged nine runs a game scoreless for just shy of four full innings.
Another name in the Bears’ long crop of junior talent, Scoggins ended the season with an ERA of 1.31 in 37.1 innings. He also posted 31 strikeouts from the bump, the third most for Tellico Plains and in the top five in the county. Scoggins posted a 5-1 record on the mound while making 13 appearances on the year.
With 27 runs scored, no one touched home more than Ryan Littleton for Sweetwater. Littleton posted a .315/.414/.849 for the Cats in his sophomore season. His 29 hits were the second most for Sweetwater and in the top six in the county. Littleton was one double shy of matching teammate Ezell with nine, but did hit the third most in the county.
Littleton’s 20 RBIs were the third most for Sweetwater and in the top nine in the county. With two more years ahead of him, Littleton will factor into Sweetwater’s long term plans for success.
Briley Duggan faced over 200 batters in his senior season and was a trusted arm in big moments for the Cats — such as the start in the District 5-AA Championship and three innings in a Region 3-AA Semifinal.
The senior went 45 innings, striking out 44 batters — the second most in the county. Duggan ended the campaign with four wins, the most of any Cat, and a save. He also finished with a .262/.427/.737 line and 22 hits. His 25 runs scored were the third most for Sweetwater.
Sequoyah’s Preston Abdulla was the only player in the county to hit double digits in doubles. The junior turned into a solid bat and reliable fielder for Sequoyah Head Coach Josh Monhollen on a Chiefs team that was short on experience.
His 38 hits were also just shy of leading the county. Abdulla led his team in singles (16) and triples (2) while posting 18 RBIs — the third most for Sequoyah. Abdulla also led the Chiefs in runs scored with 31 — the second most in the county. He also got on base 54% of the time.
Gaige Fairbanks stepped in as a senior leader for a Tellico Plains squad that made leaps and bounds in the season. Fairbanks ended the year with a .407/.485/.950 line with his on base percentage third most from Tellico Plains and in the top five when looking at batters who made five or more plate appearances.
His 23 RBIs were the second most for the Bears and tied for fourth most in the county. Fairbanks’ ability to get on base helped him post 28 runs scored — the second most for Tellico Plains and tied for third most in the county. He also wrapped up the season with 28 stolen bases.