Matt Buckner doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve often.
When you’re coaching more than 40 games in a season, you can’t succumb to the peaks and valleys that your feelings can create.
But when his Farragut High School baseball team reaches the apex of its sport — winning the Class AAA state championship — the guard comes down and a tear or two falls with it.
“With me, you create a pretty special bond with those guys. We had 15 seniors on the team. I know what they’ve put into it. I know how much our guys do all year long,” said Buckner. “I know the four days per week of weight-lifting in the fall. I know the summer trips, the fall baseball, the weight room and bullpens and agilities. Everything that goes into it.
“To me, it’s like we went through all that together. It’s kind of cool to see it all come together and win it all. It’s not easy to win it all. You’re never guaranteed to win another one. I was really happy for that group. It’s an extremely talented group and hard-nosed group who was focused on bringing that back to Farragut.”
None of the players on Farragut’s roster this season had ever won a state championship, the program’s last had come in 2014.
But Buckner — the 2019 5Star Preps Baseball Coach of the Year — and the Admirals changed that. They went 42-3 and defeated Bradley Central 7-4 in the Class AAA state title game.
It marked the fourth title in 10 years for Buckner since taking over for his friend and mentor Tommy Pharr after the 2009 season.
Farragut lost two early season games in March to Florida-based schools and then ran off a win streak of 30 games. Hardin Valley snapped that streak with a 5-2 win over the Admirals in the Region 2-AAA championship game, meaning the Admirals had to go on the road and beat Tennessee High ace Gavin Cross, a Virginia Tech commitment, in the state sectionals to reach the state tournament.
Ryan Hagenow pitched a complete-game gem and Ashton King hit the game-deciding, two-run homer in a 2-0 win.
Farragut ran off four wins in four outings in Murfreesboro, even rallying from a 7-2 deficit against Summit to win 8-7 and advance into the semifinals thanks to timely hits from unlikely heroes Nick Barnes and Angus Pence. Barnes hit just one regular-season home run but hit three during the state tournament, including two against Summit.
The loss to Hardin Valley likely proved to be the catalyst for the state-tournament run.
“I’ll be honest with you, it might have been the best thing to happen for us,” said Buckner. “I never felt like we were going to lose again. They were strong mentally. That was a strong mental group.
“I never faltered a bit about the way I felt about them (after losing to HVA). I felt like all along that we would be able to go get it done. First of all, we were an extremely talented defensive group. That was an exceptional defensive team — as good statistically as I’ve ever seen.”
Buckner’s 2019 Admirals beat you with great pitching and sound defense.
And even when they made the rare mistakes, like the errors made early in the Class AAA finale against Bradley Central, they buckled down even harder.
Case in point: Farragut pitcher Ryan Hagenow retiring the final 12 batters of the game and striking out the sides in the fourth and seventh inning.
But they could hit, too. Ashton King hit .545 in 11 postseason games. Parker Noland, a Vanderbilt signee, was a Mr. Baseball finalist and hit .464 with 44 RBIs.
This Farragut team was expected to win big — and it did.
“I just felt like all year, even from the start of the year in August and the weight room, I just felt like this group was really focused. They were focused on being great,” said Buckner.
“And they were. They were great. King, Noland, (catcher Ryan) McCarthy and Hagenow, those guys were always trying to get better. Our group fed off that. They competed good. We had a good leadership and were a highly competitive group.”