By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Recent years of Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebel Baseball has been successful.
In the past four years, Brad Smith’s teams have played in three Sub-State rounds winning two series. And in 2009 the Rebels were State runner ups.
But the group that played a large role in that run has graduated with most playing college baseball.
“I’m excited about where we’re at,” Smith said. “I think we have some growing up to do. And we’ll ask them to grow up pretty fast.
“I’ve got some kids that people don’t know about because maybe they were playing behind that group,” he continued. “They’re ready to take the reigns. This will be one of the most athletic teams that I’ve coached in my 14 years. One through nine, we’ll be able to run. We won’t have a bunch of log-jams on the base paths throughout the game.”
Smith said despite graduating players like David Owen, JT Moody, Cody Migliore, Jordan Wilson and Cale Alexander, he has several good pieces returning that will compete in Division II-A.
“Defensively, I believe we’re going to be solid,” he said. “We’re going to run the bases well.
We’ll be able to hit. I expect our power numbers to be down a little from what we had in the past. But I expect doubles to be there because this group is going to get out the box really well. They’ll stretch ordinary singles into doubles.
“The question mark I have and I’ve had since May when we played our last game, I told our kids at the beginning of the summer, ‘Our main question mark is going to be pitching,’” he added.
The trio of Owen, Moody and Ralston accounted for several innings and wins in the Rebels’ run to the State Tournament last year.
TRA graduated six of its top eight pitchers. Smith did the math and 78 percent of innings pitched has graduated.
“That is a lot of experience that walked out the door,” Smith noted. “But one of the philosophies I have here for our baseball program is, ‘Next guy up.’ If someone goes down with an injury, leaves or graduates, my philosophy is the next guy up, be ready to produce at anytime. “
The next group up to the mound will be players like seniors Jacob Johnson, Colton Hall, Preston Smith and Brandon Mitson.
“All four of them will see time on the mound,” Smith said. “Our No. 1 going into the season is going to be Conner Alexander. He was our No. 4 last year as a sophomore.
He’s already been shown interest from colleges such as Austin Peay, Ole Miss, Unveristy of Memphis and Arkansas State.”
Trying to put runs on the board for the pitching staff will be a lineup playing small ball.
“We are going to run the bases,” Smith noted. “We’re not going to be able to wait on the double that is going to short hop the fence. We’re going to have to hit and run, we’re going to bunt. We’re going to steal some bases. I have a group that is really aggressive on the base path. We have to win the game on the bases. I stress that everyday.”
Blain Curtis will be the leadoff guy. Then bats like Mitson and Alexander will be near the top of the lineup. Then bats like Logan Stewart and Xen Penny will try to drive them home. With his pieces falling in place, Smith said it will be tough to keep the level of success going. But his players know the goal is the same it is every year.
“With our Region, there is a lot of parity,” he said
“It’s very good. A couple of top teams in our Region on paper coming out from last year are Harding and USJ. Harding they lost two position players. They’ve got some tremendous high school arms on their team. And USJ is returning a lot of talent. Those two teams happen to be in the State title game from our division.
“I expect our program to be at the State Tournament each year,” Smith concluded. “That’s what we shoot for and talk about. We try to meet up with those other program, who right now on paper are pretty good. We’ll go compete with them and see where we are at the end of the day. My goal here is to make it a habit of being in Murfreesboro in May. I’m going to do whatever I can and I know these kids. They’ve worked hard in the offseason and they’ll do whatever they can to make that accomplishment a fact for our program.”