Perhaps no one competing in this week's Spring Fling state tournaments in Murfreesboro this week will appreciate the moment more than Keith Smith.
The charismatic senior is the mainstay of the pitching staff at David Lipscomb High, which opens play in the Class AA baseball tournament, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Smyrna.
Six weeks ago, on April 11, the son of coach Ernie Smith was in the midst of a solid final season when he experienced chest pains. He was rushed to Saint Thomas Hospital, received some medication and returned home.
"Later that night, the pains returned and they rushed me back to the hospital,” Keith Smith said. “Things were a little worse than I thought.”
Doctors determined he was having a heart attack. It was a mother's worst nightmare.
"It turned out he had a viral infection which invaded his heart,'' his mom, Regina Smith, said. "They did an ECG and saw he was having a heart attack. It was really frightening, just surreal.''
"They did some blood work on me, then I returned home. I was out of school for two weeks, and I spent a lot of time on the couch,'' Keith said.
"The doctors said that of people who suffer those kind of chest ailments, about 30 percent make a complete recovery, 30 percent make a partial recovery and 30 percent don't recover,'' Ernie Smith said.
Luckily, Keith Smith was in that first group.
He was able to continue what has been an outstanding senior year, both pitching and at the plate. He was cleared to play by doctors less than a month after the ailment.
Last week he signed a national letter-of-intent to play college baseball at Freed-Hardeman.
"Once I got the clearance to play, my first game back was against Brentwood Academy. We won but I was pretty winded,'' he said, laughing. "Everyone was so caring. I got cards and calls from BGA, BA, Pope JPII, Goodpasture — so many people praying for me. Prayer really does work. You feel God's hands at work.''
"So many people rallied around Keith, it was really special,'' Ernie Smith said. "I'm so glad he's been able to return and be such a big part of all this.''
The Mustangs (22-9) meet Milan (29-6) in their tourney debut.
Last Saturday morning, Smith was one of seven senior baseball players among those who walked through graduation line at Lipscomb's Allen Arena. The others were Michael Mascolo, Cody Connelly, Pete Trollinger Joel Mason, Grant Sinclair and Seth Hubler — all of whom contributed to the team's success in one way or other.
This week, they comprise part of a group, which makes an impressive fourth straight trip to the state tournament. Smith (8-2) is the expected starter Tuesday’s tournament opener.
After winning the district title, they opened with a 9-5 region semis win Monday over Sycamore as Mascolo and Connelly belted home runs, and Smith struck out eight.
Rallying for a thrilling 4-3 win over Goodpasture in the region finals Wednesday, sophomore John Bolton struck out eight, and Smith's RBI single in the fifth scored Trollinger with the winning run.
In sectionals on Friday, Smith struck out seven, and Trollinger homered in an 8-2 win over Camden. Mason and Connelly had RBI hits, as Lipscomb broke a 2-2 tie and earned its spot in the state tournament. Smith also fielded his position expertly, twice fielding well-placed bunts and throwing the runners out. He also had a successful pickoff at first base.
"Our team has a great deal of chemistry. We all really care about each other,'' Trollinger said. "Keith was in our thoughts and we visited him a lot while he was out.
“Getting to four straight state tournaments is a real accomplishment for the seniors.”
"We have the hitting and deep pitching,'' Keith Smith said. “"We've been here before, we're ready to go.''
No one appreciates it more than him.
• Baseball qualifiers: With a "refuse-to-lose mentality,'' Brentwood Academy kept alive its hopes for a fourth straight DII-AA baseball championship when it swept a doubleheader against rival Montgomery Bell Academy on Friday.
Sophomore Will Haynie pitched the opener — a 3-1 victory — and doubled during a three-run rally in the sixth inning of the second game, which the Eagles (20-15) won 9-6 to complete their sweep of the best-of-three sectional series.
BA will open the state tournament against Memphis University School (25-4), 6:30 Tuesday at Wilson Central.
— Franklin Road Academy (23-10) faces Evangelical Christian School (26-6) in a DII-A first-round game Tuesday night at LaVergne.
Pope John Paul II and Davidson Academy also qualified in DII-AA and DII-A, respectively.
— For the third straight year, Mt. Juliet ended Overton's baseball season — this time with a 4-3 win in Class AAA sectionals, which was the most heartbreaking yet.
The game Friday at Mt. Juliet went into extra innngs, and Overton went ahead 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth when Trevecca signee Matt Barrett singled in Mookie Betts. The Bears rallied with two in the bottom of the inning capped by Brandon Henson's bases loaded single.
Overton was looking for its first state trip since 2005.
• Hunters Lane hire: William Darnell, an assistant for seven years at Hillwood, has been named football coach at Hunters Lane. He becomes the Warriors’ third coach in three years. Terry Hemontolor was 1-9 last season and veteran Richard Campbell had the job before that.
• Davidson hoops hire: Kevin Harper has been named boys basketball coach at Davidson Academy. He replaces Kevin Maggard, under whom Harper was an assistant for several years. Maggard guided DA to the state tournament three years ago.