By TREY WILLIAMS
Daniel Boone senior baseball player Cade Elliott had a grand 2020 vision, and it was easy to see his cause for optimism.
The 6-foot-6 left-hander was the Big Seven Conference player of the year in 2019 and signed with the University of Tennessee in November. And with teammates such as Brody Goodman, Colby Backus and Ryan Haney returning, a breakthrough postseason seemed within reach this year.
Elliott struck out 10 and allowed one hit in a season-opening 5-0 win against Elizabethton on March 9, and after a 15-3 win at Morristown East the following day, Boone improved to 3-0 with an impressive 9-2 win against Riverdale on Thursday, March 12. The Riverdale matchup was supposed to be the first of a three-game stretch around Nashville, but the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on Boone’s fast start and seems all but certain to have terminated the season’s remainder.
“The day we left (for Nashville) was when the MLB and the NBA were shutting down and it kind of got big and we realized these could be our last few games,” Elliott said. “And we played one game down there and beat Riverdale. And Riverdale shut out Dobyns-Bennett the day after we beat ‘em, 9-2. That’s when we kind of opened our eyes and said, ‘Man, we could be the real deal this year.’
“The next day we were ready to play and the guy came out – the head coach at that field – and said they weren’t allowing anybody on the school campus anymore. So we packed our stuff and went home.”
Goodman, a senior center fielder-pitcher, pitched 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and drove in three runs against Riverdale.
“Brody Goodman, I think, was the biggest guy I was excited to see (this season),” Elliott said, “because last year he was our leadoff guy and he was all-conference and he was good, but he put on so much muscle this past year. He was in the weight room like every day.
“He came in in relief against Riverdale and kind of shut ‘em down. His curveball was great. He’s good on the mound and even better at the plate. He’s an impressive guy to watch.
“He’s the fastest guy on the field. He’s one of my best friends. I was excited to see what he was gonna do, because I always predicted he would be in the running for conference player of the year – hopefully, along with me.”
Elliott, who has been clocked at 91 mph, was 4-2 with a 1.04 ERA in 2019. He struck out 59 in 40 innings while opponents batted .163.
Defending his player of the year was the least of his concerns.
“There’s a ton of great players in our conference,” Elliott said. “You’ve got (Landon) Slemp and (Caleb) Marmo and all those Science Hill guys. You’ve got (Jackson) McDavid from Dobyns-Bennett.
“I would’ve been blessed to compete my heart out for that award again. But I never really thought about it last year. I wouldn’t have thought about it this year. My goal this year was I wanted to go to state so bad. We just didn’t get that opportunity.”
Scott Hagy is in his first year coaching the Trailblazers.
“We had a ton of guys work their butt off in the weight room and running this year, and we’ve been in the best shape of our entire high school careers,” Elliott said. “And we’ve got a bunch of younger guys that were contributing. I felt like we definitely had a chance to win the Big Seven and I think we had a good chance to go to state.
“Coach Hagy took us into the gym and showed us our banners and stuff, and how many regional championships we’ve been to, and we’ve only got one. And he said, ‘How much do you guys want it?’ That’s when we kind of realized this could be our year. And now that’s kind of taken away from us. It hurts.”
Elliott still gets excited talking about the seasons he anticipated from teammates such as Goodman.
“Colby Backus is a big power hitter,” he said. “He was gonna be our three-hole this year. He was lighting it up early. I think he was hitting like .530. Ryan Haney was starting to get hot at the plate. He was hitting around .500, I think.
“We had so many guys with talent – underclassmen Anthony Edwards and Gaven Jones. They were two guys in the weight room the whole offseason and they got so much stronger. I was just excited to see what this team would do.”
Of course, he’s excited about his future at Tennessee. Third-year coach Tony Vitello had the Volunteers ranked No. 11 after a 13-0 start this season. They were 15-2 when the season was halted.
“I think mine and my family’s favorite thing about him is he’s such a trustworthy guy,” Elliott said, “just the way he talks in postgame interviews, the way he speaks to recruits and especially the way he talks to me. From the moment I stepped on that campus he treated me like one of his own. I want to play my heart out for him, because he seems like a genuine man.
“Obviously, you’ve seen what he’s done with the program. It’s amazing. They were pretty much done for three or four years ago, and he comes in and everybody says there’s a whole new attitude around the field with him on it. And I’m pretty excited to see what that attitude’s like and get after it.”
Elliott will have a chance initially to pitch and hit, although he was recruited as a pitcher. Pitching coach Frank Anderson impressed Elliott, who has talked with him on the phone and threw at one of Anderson’s pitching camps.
“He said a few words about his philosophy and how much he loves left-handed guys and I kind of fell in love with his ways and stuff,” Elliott said. “I’m just super-excited for him to coach and get to learn all his knowledge. I pretty much knew from the get-go he was the man.”
Elliott wasn’t much of a college baseball fan until Coach Rob Hoover took Boone to see a UT-Auburn game when the Trailblazers were playing Oak Ridge during Elliott’s freshman year.
“I kind of fell in love with it after that,” he said. “It’s been a dream come true.”
For now, the only wins to speak of are coming in family competitions such as Scattergories, and Elliott is throwing off a homemade plywood mound in his backyard. His father, Josh, pitched at Daniel Boone and Centre College.
Elliott also worked out at the home of Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, who is beginning his 15th year with the Rangers and was the recipient of their 2019 Bobby Jones Development Man of the Year award.
Mike Ranson, who has been the pitching coach at Furman and Delaware and scouted for Kansas City, was also there.
“I went for a lesson with them,” Elliott said. “Danny actually set up outside of his house. He set up a bunch of mounds and they did some lessons there. I was lucky to get in there with them. They’re two great minds.”
Being a tall left-hander with 90-mph velocity, Elliott surely has scouts scratching their heads about next month’s draft, which will be shortened to no more than 10 rounds this year.
“It would take a whole lot,” Elliott said, “to pull me away from the Vols.”
Elliott holds out hope that the season could be resumed, noting governor Bill Lee being expected to make an announcement on Wednesday about schools.
“Until they say that (it’s over) you’ve just gotta stay prepared as much as possible,” Elliott said. “There’s so much uncertainty. I mean it feels like there’s a pretty bad chance that we’ll go back, but there’s still a chance.
“If we do go back it’s gonna be hard for a lot of people because they haven’t got to see a ball out of a pitcher’s hand in two months. It’s just hard. …
“When it came out it kind of bummed me out, but I had no idea it would get to this severity. I mean, obviously, it’s pretty bad throughout the whole United States. But for all these seniors, we’re missing most of our most important semester. For me, yea it sucks missing my senior year but I get to go on and play college baseball, and I’m lucky to do that. But we’ve got 3-4 other guys that don’t get to do that and they’re potentially gonna lose their senior year. I just feel bad for them. We don’t get a Senior Night. It’s sad.”