Trinity Christian Academy’s baseball team is headed to the Class A state tournament with a 35-3 record. That’s pretty impressive, of course, but most folks in this part of West Tennessee might say, “so what.”
That would be understandable.
But there is a local twist to this story. Trinity is coached by Jeremy Maddox and assisted by former Major Leaguer Drew Hayes. Thirteen years ago, Maddox was head coach of the McKenzie Rebels and his prize pitcher was, you guessed it, Drew Hayes.
Maddox and Hayes, and the rest of the Rebels, defeated Trousdale County, Summertown (twice) and Forrest (featuring current MLB pitcher Mikie Minor) 2-0 in the Class A state tournament. Hayes struck out 12 in that game and essentially shut down an offense that had set power records.
Now the duo is together again and attempting to make another run at a ring.
Maddox finds it hard to believe that so much time has passed since that magical run for the crown, but he still remembers it fondly. And getting Hayes to join him on the bench at Trinity rekindles memories, but it also has sparked this current Trinity team.
“We went to the state tournament last year and had a good run with an inexperienced team,” Maddox said. “So returning with talent is one thing, but you are always looking for ways of improving your team.”
Then assistant coach Robert Kraft stepped aside to coach the Lady Lion softball team. That created an opportunity to acquire Hayes.
“We were able to fill that spot with a great baseball mind and someone I’m extremely comfortable with,” he said.
The TCA coach said that Hayes has a Major League pedigree, but there are times that playing at the highest level doesn’t necessarily mean success as a coach.
“Getting to the upper level puts you on a different platform, but you have to be able to connect with the kids,” Maddox said. “Drew has a unique way to relate to the kids, which is really cool. Knowing where he’s been, the kids are going to listen more intently to what he has to say, and what he has to say is really good.”
Maddox says learning to coach is a lot different than taking the field and playing. But he says he has enjoyed watching Hayes mature as a coach.
This year’s Lions are 35-3 overall, and Maddox said he tried to find a tough schedule for his team. He sought Double A teams with healthy dossiers for winning in the past. And yet the Lions have gone on a pretty good run.
“We have had a pretty good year, but when I tried to schedule this year, I wanted to come up with a tough schedule,” Maddox said. “I scheduled the South Gibson, the McNairys, teams like that and our guys have just played well. We had depth in our pitching staff and everything kind of fell into place.”
TCA lost two walk-off games to Gibson County and suffered setback to a very scrappy Halls team. This is a pretty good team and in the same side of the draw as Loretto, a team many felt would win the state crown last year. Maddox said there are similarities and differences between his team that won it all 13 years ago and this year’s team.
“That team we had in 2006 was extremely unique. We didn’t have the most talented bunch of kids, full of college signees and Division 1 prospects, but we had chemistry and great leadership,” the coach said. “They had passion and played for each other. It was unique and they refused to lose.”
This year’s Trinity team has good leadership and probably a little more overall talent, said Maddox.
“We have three seniors who are going to play in college, so you have a little more of that kind of talent, which is fun to see,” said the coach. “We also have depth in pitching with guys who can give us a chance.”
Then Maddox had a curious thought.
“If you combined the talent of this team and combined it with the heart of that McKenzie team, you’d have an unbeatable team.”
Maddox says what worked at McKenzie and Union City might not work at Trinity and vice versa.
“You have to find out what approach to take with each team. What works with this team might not work with another team, so every team is different and so is the approach you have to take with them.”
This week, TCA opens the state tournament at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with University School of Johnson City. Those two are in the same half of the draw as Loretto and Franklin Grace. The championship game will be held 11 a.m. Friday. For Trinity, it is a real chance this year to collect a ring. For Hayes and Maddox, such a feat would be their second. How cool would that be?
“For me, the joy of seeing the smile on Drew Hayes’ face again like he and those kids did when they came away with that state championship in 2006, to see them be successful on that big stage would be special. And to experience that with him again would be fun.”