Calling it the most fun group he’s coached, George Weicker hopes his Franklin Road Academy baseball team gets even more enjoyment from the 2013 season.
The Panthers (27-4) added the Middle/East Region tournament championship to their regular season title with a 3-2 win over Knoxville Webb on Saturday afternoon in the championship game at Ezell-Harding.
“This is a group of fun-loving guys,” Weicker, the 30-year Panthers coach whose teams have won three state championships, said. “We have been very consistent all season, and we’ve had a lot of leadership shown by our six seniors.
“It’s the best team I’ve had since we won state in 2000. The key is our pitching depth, which is at least equal to the 2000 team.”
Matt Hissong (8-0) is the ace. Also the quarterback for FRA’s football team the past two seasons, he has signed for baseball with South Carolina-Aiken, a team coached by former Trevecca Nazarene star and Vol State coach Kenny Thomas.
He, along with sophomore Casey Queener, who pitched a perfect game recently, and Zach Byrd, give the Panthers a deep group of starters.
Hissong shut out Ezell-Harding 2-0 in the tournament opener last Wednesday, and Byrd (5-0) pitched the Panthers to a 4-2 win over Webb in the winners bracket final Thursday. Easton Cornelius got the win Saturday and Hissong earned the save.
Shortstop Joe Mattson, who is headed to Christian Brothers University in Memphis, leads the Panthers in hitting with an impressive .436 mark.
“Baseball is a game you take seriously, but there is a lot of little boy in each of us, and that’s the way this group is,” Weicker said. “They have fun with each other and kid around, but when the game starts, these guys are all business and focused.
“That’s what I like about them.”
The 1986 state championship team was recently honored prior to a game, marking the 25th anniversary of the milestone. Under Weicker, FRA also won in 1984 and in 2000.
Last year, the Panthers got to the final eight before they were eliminated one step short by Harding Academy.
They need to win a best two-of-three series later this week, against University School of Jackson, to make a return trip to state. That series opens Friday at FRA.
• Battery of brothers: Catcher Hall Pittman, a senior, and pitcher Christian Pittman, a freshman and Hall’s brother, comprised a brotherly battery for Ensworth.
Hall and Christian are the great grandsons of Cleo Miller, who was also the battery mate of Charles Hawkins II in the 1920s at Vanderbilt. In the 1950s, their uncle Jimmy Miller was a battery mate at Vanderbilt with Charlie Hawkins III, for whom Commodore field was named after in 2002.
The Pittmans and Ensworth fell short of a spot Division II sectionals with a 3-2 loss to Battle Ground Academy in the region finals Saturday.