KCHS spring teams win multiple state titles

The Fighting Irish capture their first baseball crown, dominate in tennis, and collect five track victories

By Dan McWilliams

Knoxville Catholic High School in May made the most of the annual TSSAA Spring Fling spring-sports championships.

Fighting Irish athletes came home with a number of Division II, Class AA state titles as the baseball team won its first-ever championship with a dramatic walkoff win, while Lady Irish tennis continued its dominance of team, singles, and doubles titles and the KCHS boys and girls track team saw two individuals combine for five state crowns.

The Knoxville Catholic baseball team poses with the state-championship trophy on the field.

Ian Hubbard’s two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Cade Avans with the game-ending, championship-winning run for the Fighting Irish baseball team May 25 as it defeated Christ Presbyterian Academy 4-3 at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

Maeve Thornton of KCHS won her third consecutive tennis singles state title, and Eleni Liakonis and Lillie Murphy captured their second straight doubles state championship. The Lady Irish team won its third title in a row.

In track and field, freshman Chloe Truss of Knoxville Catholic swept all three sprint events for a trio of state titles, and Fighting Irish sophomore Keegan Smith added to his career total with state championships in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, all on May 24.

The Irish baseball team took a 3-1 lead over CPA in the bottom of the first inning in the finals, getting one run on an error and two runs on an RBI double by Ian and a single by Joey Lamattina.

Senior pitcher Daniel Parris, a University of Tennessee baseball signee, tossed six innings for the Irish (31-9) in the championship game and left with the game tied 3-3 after throwing 111 pitches and allowing six hits and two earned runs while striking out five and walking five.

The heroics started in the bottom of the seventh as Ben Sompayrac was hit by a pitch with one out. Cade pinch-ran for Ben. With two outs, Hudson Lutterman singled to left, moving Cade to second. Cade and Hudson advanced a base on a wild pitch. Daniel was intentionally walked to load the bases before Ian singled to center to win the state title for KCHS. The walkoff hit made a winner out of relief pitcher Jacob Camfield, who pitched a scoreless top of the seventh.

Daniel said the state title for the Irish “is a really big honor to hold, one I can carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Knoxville Catholic’s schedule prepared them for the state-tourney run, Daniel said.

“It was a really tough season with the schedule we played. We played a really tough schedule. We’re really just happy to come out with a win. It was just an amazing season,” he said.

Daniel said he was glad the hero of the game was Ian.

“I couldn’t have picked out a better person to get the walkoff win. Ian’s one of my best friends, one of the nicest kids,” he said.

Daniel saluted Irish head coach Caleb Moore.

“I really love what he did. I love the coach that he is,” he said. “He is a coach who will come out any day, rain or shine, and help you on the field. Even if we don’t have practice that day, he’ll come out and help you with anything that you need.”

KCHS’s first baseball title is “extremely special,” Mr. Moore said, citing the campus’ two locations on Magnolia Avenue and currently Fox Lonas Road.

“For me personally to see what Knoxville Catholic has become from the days on Magnolia to what we are now on Fox Lonas is amazing. This team defied a lot of odds and some tough times this season to make history.

“Every game we played from the substate round to the championship game was close, so it didn’t really surprise me that we won it in dramatic fashion. I believe I aged a few years the last two weeks!”

Knoxville Catholic defeated Lipscomb Academy 6-4 in the winners’ bracket finals May 24 at Wilson Central High School in Lebanon after Daniel smacked a two-run homer to center field in the top of the seventh to break a 4-all tie.

Those were the first KCHS runs since the Irish opened the game with a four-run first inning. In that frame, Hudson stroked an RBI double, Daniel a run-scoring single, Mason Fields a sacrifice fly, and Ryan Theobald an RBI double.

The Irish began the tournament with a 2-0 shutout of CPA behind Ben’s two-hitter. Ben struck out six and walked only one in throwing 103 pitches for the win. Grant Tallent singled in Mason to start a two-run fifth inning that gave KCHS all the runs it would need. The second run scored after Daniel hit a ground ball to short that was misplayed, bringing home Grant.

Knoxville Catholic reached the state tourney in Murfreesboro after a two-game sweep at Baylor in the quarterfinals.

The KCHS Lady Irish tennis squad won its third team title in a row and also captured singles and doubles championships this spring. From left are (front) Pauline Schneiter and Logan Connatser and (back) coach Michelle White, coach Karen Lorino, Marianna Hurley, Payton Carroll, Eleni Liakonis, Gigi Sompayrac, Maeve Thornton, Lillie Murphy, Karenna Thurman, Lauren Murphy, coach Jacob Lorino, and head coach Rusty Morris.

Knoxville Catholic tennis head coach Rusty Morris’ squad started the year ranked No. 1 in the nation in the Universal Tennis Ratings.

Maeve swept all three of her state-tournament singles opponents in straight sets at the Adams Tennis Complex in Murfreesboro, beginning with a 6-0, 6-0 shutout of Emma Huggins of Briarcrest in the quarterfinals May 25 and continuing with a 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Leah Tomichek of Brentwood Academy in the semifinals the same day before defeating Melanie Woodbury of Hutchison 6-2, 6-0 for the state title May 26.

Eleni and Lillie opened the state doubles quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Zoe Pelts and Olivia Evans of Hutchison on May 25. They swept Avery Franklin and Estelle Denker of Ensworth 6-0, 6-3 the same day, then defeated Sloane Proffitt and Gabby Czarnecki of Baylor 6-1, 6-2 for the championship May 26.

In the team title match May 24, the Lady Irish defeated Baylor 4-1, beating the Chattanooga school in the finals for the third consecutive year. Maeve (6-3, 6-1), Lillie (6-1, 6-1), and Gigi Sompayrac (6-0, 6-2) won their singles matches, while Maeve and Gigi (8-5) and Eleni and Lillie (8-1) triumphed in doubles.

In the team semifinals May 23, the Lady Irish blanked Ensworth 4-0. Eleni (6-1, 6-0), Gigi (6-1, 6-0), and Payton Carroll (6-0, 6-0) swept their singles matches, and Maeve and Gigi (8-0) and Eleni and Lillie (8-2) easily won in doubles.

“The key to our success this year was the depth of the team, the No. 1 and 2 doubles teams, and the senior leadership,” Mr. Morris said. “The top five singles players had no losses this season, and the top two doubles teams had no losses. When you can get the doubles point each match, then all we have to do is win three singles matches to win, and that is good for the team since the top five singles players did not lose this year. This is the third team title in a row, and the team is undefeated in three years with this year’s record of 18-0. The team was No. 1 in the nation according to UTR most of the year. We are currently No. 2.”

Maeve seldom lost a game in sweeping her singles opponents.

“Maeve was very dominant in her singles matches,” Mr. Morris said. “Maeve orchestrated each point and gave her opponent very few errors. She finished her high school career undefeated in singles and doubles.

“Eleni Liakonis and Lillie Murphy were tremendous in the tournament as they have been throughout their high school career. They have never been defeated as a team.”

Mr. Morris’ squad loses Maeve and Gigi but could be strong again in 2024.

“The outlook for the team is good,” Mr. Morris said. “We lose two seniors: Maeve Thornton, who will play for Furman, and Gigi Sompayrac, who will play for Anderson University. We have returning Lillie Murphy, Eleni Liakonis, and Payton Carroll, who all were undefeated this year. We also have returning Karenna Thurman and Pauline Schneiter, who both contributed this year. We also have reserve players Marianna Hurley, Logan Connatser, and Lauren Murphy, who we look forward to contributing next year.”

In track and field, freshman Chloe was the fastest in the 100 dash finals at 12 seconds flat, besting Jaloni Cambridge of Ensworth by 0.19 seconds at Dean Hayes Stadium in Murfreesboro. Chloe completed the 200 dash in 24.90, defeating Lady Irish teammate Elly Jones (25.69) for the top spot. Chloe ran the 400 dash in 56.95, again edging Jaloni, this time by a tenth of a second.

Knoxville Catholic’s Keegan Smith won the 1,600-meter run and 3,200 run titles, and Chloe Truss captured championships in the 100, 200, and 400 dash events.

“Chloe has been beyond impressive as a freshman,” said Knoxville Catholic track-and-field coach Sean O’Neil. “She raced a full indoor season and then went right in to outdoor. That makes for a long season, and she did a great job navigating her first year of high school track. The thing that impressed me most about Chloe was that nothing ever seemed to faze her. Whether she was going against high-level talent from out of state at the Eastern Relays in Kentucky or racing upperclassmen at championship meets in Tennessee, she always ran her best when it mattered most. At her first state championships, she didn’t just sweep the sprint events, she broke her own school records in the 100 and 200 and was a few hundredths away from breaking her 400 record, too.”

Keegan won the 1,600 state championship with a time of 4:17.18, nosing out Luke Thompson of Brentwood Academy (4:17.36) by less than a quarter-second for the victory. Keegan captured the 3,200 crown with a time of 9:12.35, again beating Luke (9:13.56) for the top spot.

“Keegan had some ups and downs in the early part of the season,” Mr. O’Neil said. “We tried to simplify things and had him focus on just going out and competing. He kept getting faster and more confident, and by the time we got to the KIL, region, and state championships, he was ready for anything. The 1600 at state is probably my favorite race I’ve seen Keegan run. It was his second race of the day, so he was already tired. I could see in his face that it was not easy for him, but he battled through it to keep himself in position to win. He made all the right decisions and was able to find just enough in the last few meters to get the win.”

Keegan, who has recorded multiple distance-running wins in numerous competitions in recent years, now has a high school cross country championship title, a one-mile indoor state title, and two 1,600 state titles to go along with his 3,200 win this spring.

Knoxville Catholic track athletes posted a number of top-eight finishes in other events.

Maggie Frana recorded a state-runner-up finish in girls discus with a throw of 104 feet, 6 inches.

JR Fowler placed fifth in boys discus with an effort of 157-11 and seventh in shot put with a toss of 47-1.5.

Payton Sipos took fourth in the girls 100 hurdles with a time of 15.21 seconds and sixth in the 300 hurdles with a time of 46.78.

Kaylee Estridge came in fifth in the girls 1,600 run with a time of 5:13.27.

The Lady Irish 800 relay team of Maeva Cox, Evaiya Mitchell, Sharon Wilson, and Elly posted a time of 1:45.68 to place second, just 0.08 of a second from first. The same foursome placed eighth in the 400 relay in 54.58 seconds. The KCHS girls 1,600 relay team of Elly, Julia Zabek, Payton, and Chloe took third place in a time of 4:06.49.

Payton placed 12th with 2,708 points and Caroline Hilliard 23rd with 1,940 points in the girls pentathlon. Payton was third in the 100 hurdles in the pentathlon, her best finish in the five-event competition.

The KCHS girls track team placed fourth overall at the state meet and the boys team 10th.

“The future is definitely bright for us,” Mr. O’Neil said. “Out of 11 athletes we had at the state track meet, only three were seniors, and five were freshmen or sophomores. We had several other freshmen and sophomores who came close to qualifying, and they should be in the mix to make it next year. JR was the only freshman to qualify for the throwing events. This was a great season for us, but I truly believe that we can build on it and have an even better season next year.”

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