If the first two weeks of a team’s season can be used to say something then they are saying that Tellico Plains is off to a historic start.
The Bears are 7-2 through their first nine games — putting them on pace for a 20 or more win season — well above the 18-win season in 2004 that is considered to be the best.
A look over Tellico’s last few seasons shows trends of improvement. In 2017 the Bears won 13 games and improved on that margin by one the next season. Tellico Plains’ trend continued to rise to 15 wins in 2019 — a season that started with a 9-3 record. The Bears also won their lone game of the 2020 season.
The factor that has been working with Tellico Plains, a program that won five games between the 2012 and 2014 seasons — and that may have plagued them in the closing run of 2019 — was consistency.
Enter the first nine games of 2021.
Tellico Plains has been getting the job done across the field. That is most evident starting on the mound.
Cade Scoggins and Clifton Cruz combined for a one-hitter in the Bears’ 5-3 win over Coalfield in five innings on March 20. The duo struck out seven batters — five by Cruz.
The performance was not perfect, five combined walks and allowing two unearned runs is not ideal, but the ability to get batters out when they needed to is the biggest takeaway from the win.
Entering the season, the Bears’ two marquee names on the mound were Ben Edwards and Ethan Fairbanks — and the two have done their job this year. Edwards pitched the full game and allowed only four hits in the Bears’ 10-0 win over District 4-A foe Lookout Valley on March 22.
Fairbanks struck out four batters in his shift against Sweetwater on March 16 before allowing four runs and four walks in the bottom of the third inning.
However, the change that ensued at the mound allowed Tyler Harris to step up as another mound presence for the Bears. Harris came in and allowed two runs through 4.1 innings — including closing out the bottom of the third without allowing Sweetwater to add any more on.
Harris struck out four batters before Bo Elliot came in and closed the night with two strikeouts in a hitless bottom of the seventh — sealing a 7-6 Tellico Plains win.
Fairbanks returned to the mound in a double header with Fulton on March 26 where he allowed zero hits through his two inning shift in the opening game. Ethan Teague followed suit, allowing one hit and one earned run while striking two out through two innings. Elliot came in and closed it off with a hitless bottom of the fifth — Tellico Plains won 10-1.
Moving more into the depth charts, the Bears only gave up six hits in the second game — three off of Peyton Dodson in two innings and three off of Cade Scoggins in three innings. The Bears won 6-3.
In Tellico Plains’ lone district loss, the Bears allowed only two runs. Harris went 4.1 innings and allowed six on board, but managed to get out of his time on the mound with the score tied at 1-1. Kent Wiseman closed out the game and struck out four batters through 2.2 innings.
Wiseman gave up a single to the leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh, as well as walk the second runner on board, before giving up a walk-off single — losing 2-1 on March 23.
The Bears have collectively been limiting chances for their opposition and, even in losses, the performances have been for the most part consistent.
There is still a long road to haul in the 2021 season, and there is no guarantee that what has been happening will continue to happen. But for Coach Heath Ware’s team continuing to string these performances together on the mound is the factor that can move them forward in continuing the expectations they have.
In 2019 the Bears won 15 games and reached the region semifinals for the first time in the millennium. The natural path of progression would suggest that moving to the region championship and beyond should be the new goal. And the key to being in a region championship, and a subsequent substate appearance, is being consistent.