Friendship closes Division I era with sixth championship in two seasons
By Andy Reed
MURFREESBORO —Brennan Swindoll began his senior season beating cancer and ended it with he and his teammates conquering Tennessee Class A baseball.
The Friendship Christian senior left-hander pitched his second shutout of the BlueCross Spring Fling as the Commanders added a third state championship in their final year in Division I via a 4-0 blanking of Silverdale on Friday at Middle Tennessee State's Reese Smith Field.
Six of the school's seven TSSAA titles have come in the last two years - two each in football and volleyball and one each in baseball and boys' basketball.
"This is where you want to be in baseball, and of course [Tennessee] Tech is where we want to be in football," said John McNeal, who has coached the football and baseball teams to all four titles and was an assistant on last year's basketball title squad. "It's just a good feeling.
"It's hard to get here. Last year, realistically, we were headed in the right direction for a long time. The two seasons, last year we started hot and ended slow, this year we started slow and ended hot [33-6 final record following an 0-4 start in Gulf Shores, Ala.]."
Less than three days after dominating Scotts Hill in a 5-0 opening-round victory, Swindoll was reached for seven hits and two walks, but escaped several jams in part with nine strikeouts as the Commanders capped their seventh straight state tournament the same way they began their run in 2007, with the championship.
"We've done a lot of therapy to try to get my arm in shape [after throwing 90 pitches Tuesday], but once you get out there, none of that stuff really matters, it's all adrenaline," Swindoll said. "This is where we wanted to be all year long and we prepared and worked hard for it, and it's a great feeling."
After the first four Commanders were retired by Silverdale right-hander Joey Szollosi, Austin Godwin and Tanner Martin hit back-to-back doubles for a 1-0 lead. Gunner Osborne singled in Martin.
Swindoll followed with a single for Friendship's fourth straight hit, but Szollosi didn't allow another Commander to reach base until Swindoll doubled to deep left to open the fifth inning. His courtesy runner, Jameson Sorrels was called out at the plate on an attempted first-and-third double steal with Stefan Remus on a play in which it appeared, with some photographic evidence, he was safe.
But Swindoll made sure the lost runs didn't matter as he escaped a two-on situation in the first inning, a one-out double in the third and singles in the fourth and fifth. The Seahawks loaded the bases in the sixth and had two more on in the seventh before escaping via the strikeout both times.
"My arm started getting a little fatigued, but I tried to forget about that and remember where I am - MTSU for state championship," Swindoll said.
He wasn't tired enough for McNeal to pull him.
"We had two starters still hadn't thrown, but his velocity hadn't changed," McNeal said. "Late in the game, it was just as hard as it was in the first."
Friendship did tack on a couple of insurance scores in the sixth when Caleb Snider and Michael Hawks singled. Hawks' bunt single was thrown away, allowing Snider to score. Godwin's sacrifice moved Hawks to third, from where he crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
Swindoll, Snider, Godwin, Martin, third baseman Stefan Remus, catcher Gunner Osborne, shortstop Cale Mitchell and infielder Jameson Sorrels are part of a senior class [joined last year by center-fielder Hunter Watts from Gordonsville] which made the state all four seasons. As sophomores, they lost the final to Decatur County-Riverside and the late Stephen Gant as Swindoll sat out the season following a rotator cuff injury sustained while making a tackle against Marion County in the football playoffs seven months earlier.
"We got here in  and fell short, I was sitting right there in the dugout watching the whole thing recovering from my surgery," Swindoll said. "We've always been trying to get back since."
"Here's the thing about these nine, those who played football and baseball, they've been in the state final in both two times, four times total combined, and won three," said McNeal. In addition, Watts and Colton Gaines were also on the '12 basketball title team.
"It's been a great run," McNeal said. "This is what it's about, celebrating with the kids. The kids did it. We left it out there for them in the tournament and they did the job."
Swindoll, an all-state pitcher as a freshman and junior, was the passing quarterback on Friendship's 2011 state football championship team before giving up that sport to focus on baseball, and just last week signed to play for Chattanooga State Community College. But before his senior season, he had a bigger issue to deal with than the game.
"I had testicular cancer," said Swindoll, who missed Senior Night ceremonies at the end of basketball season [FCS honors seniors in spring sports as well as basketball] to undergo surgery. "I worked my way through it and tried to fight back and get back in the rotation and the lineup. The Good Lord blessed and got me back.
"The Lord, my family and all my friends helped me get through it and get to this point."