STATE CHAMPIONSHIP BOUND: Bees Sweep Dyer County Behind Llano, Kilpatrick’s Efforts

by Rusty Ellis

Coverage of the Spring Fling is presented by Steel Technologies

The Upperman Bees are back in the Class AAA State Championship after a pair of victories over the Dyer County Choctaws on Thursday evening.

In game one, it was Julian Llano who made his first career start on the mound for coach Wes Shanks, and he delivered a complete-game performance that saw him give up just a single unearned run with just two walks and four strikeouts.

The lone Dyer County run scored in the top of the first inning after a walk, error and a HBP led to a bases-loaded jam with no outs. The run scored on a wild pitch, but it was all the Choctaws would get in seven innings off Llano.

It didn’t take long for Upperman to even the score, as an Eli Huddleston sacrifice fly knotted things up at 1-apiece, and it stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh.

There, Justin Fallon led off with a double before Caden Shanks and Huddleston were each intentionally walked to load the bases with nobody out. Tyler Jared secured the win with a sac fly to right to score Fallon and force a game two with a 2-1 Upperman victory.

Shanks then turned to Bobby-Ray Kilpatrick on the mound for the all-decisive second game, and he followed Llano’s lead with an excellent complete-game start of his own.

The Bees staked Kilpatrick to a four-run lead with a big third inning, powered by another Jared sac fly, an RBI single by Llano and a two-run single by Ty Stanton.

Dyer County struck for runs in the fourth and fifth inning to cut the lead down to 4-2, but that was as close as they would get, as the Upperman Bees clinched their spot in the state title game with a 5-2 victory.

Kilpatrick finished the complete-game performance by giving up just two runs (one earned) with no walks and just six hits, an impressive follow-up to Llano’s showing in game one.

And it was two performances that Shanks says was hard to put into words just how crucial they were.

“I’m looking for the words right now, they fought. They’re sophomores,” Shanks said. “We’ve got all sorts of guys that can do anything with anyone in the state, and they’re showing it…Juju hasn’t had a start all year, and there wasn’t a chance he was going to come out.  He just commanded the strike zone and gave our team some confidence. And then Bobby-Ray Kilpatrick hasn’t had a start since the district tournament, but that was an amazing start. He could’ve collapsed over the moment, but he didn’t. He came right in and gained confidence on every pitch throughout the game.”

Shanks has always talked about playing with confidence, regardless of the situation. It was a key part of the championship run last season, and with his stacked sophomore class featuring players like Llano and Kilpatrick, it’s a group that’s gaining confidence with every passing moment.

“That’s what this team does,” Shanks said. “I saw it last year with these guys, and that’s why we were so successful then, and now they’re owning it…this is still a young team, but you also can’t overlook guys like Mr. Baseball Eli Huddleston, Caden Shanks or Braden Williams. There’s so many critical parts to this team, this is just such a fun moment for us.”

Last year, the Bees remained in the winner’s bracket all the way to the title game. This year, it’s been more of a rollercoaster-type path, with Upperman winning three elimination games, two of which they trailed early in.

So many things have to go right for a team to make it to a state title game to begin with, and Friday will mark the second straight title game the Bees have played in. What’s been the key for Shanks’ team?

In his eyes, it’s the preparation the team has put in since the start of the season to prepare them for this moment.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve gone hours and hours away to find tough opponents,” Shanks said. “Our record could be a whole lot better if we stayed around the Upper Cumberland and middle Tennessee, but we got to east Tennessee and southern Tennessee to find good teams, and we’ve played nothing but West Tennessee teams here. The tough schedule that we’ve played has raised our team’s level, because when we play against opponents in our district, our confidence just continued growing.”

“It’s had it’s ups and downs, but we’ve always felt like we were in control.”

The Bees will defend their State Championship on Friday when they take on Greeneville at 4 P.M. at Reese Smith Jr. Field on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. The game will be live-streamed on the UCR Facebook page with pregame coverage beginning at approximately 3:45 P.M.