Categorized | Sports

2014 Rebels feature college-level talent in key leadership roles

By Thomas Sellers Jr.Card Blain Curtis

The 2014 Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebel Baseball team has been making headlines since the fall.
For the first time in program history, a pair of Rebels inked letters of intent during November’s early signing period with Connor Alexander to Memphis and Blain Curtis to Christian Brothers University.
While that duo was on the basketball court helping guide Jason Morgan’s hoops Rebels to a winning season, the rest of skipper Brad Smith’s baseball Rebels were building toward the start of the 2014 campaign.
“I’m very excited about this group,” Smith said. “I’ve been excited about this group since last summer. This past fall, the way the kids worked. I didn’t have my basketball players out there with me. But we did this new thing, called the Murfreesboro Challenge.
“It’s kind like the way college programs in the fall do their Omaha Challenge trying to reach the elite game,” he added. “It went real well. The kids bought in and our new motto this year is ‘Win an inning everyday.’”
Omaha is the home of the College World Series. And Murfreesboro is the destination for all Tennessee TSSAA Baseball this May for the State championships. In Smith’s tenure at TRA, the Rebels have made two visits finishing as State runner ups in 2009.
“If we stay healthy, I feel like we have a good shot this year,” he said.
The Murfreesboro Challenge prepared the Rebels physically and mentally with tests of endurance. The challenge also gave Smith a chance to drill home his message of focus to his players.
“I tell the kids all the time, you have to stir adversity in the eye and try to beat it,” he said. “I think it’s what my kids will do at this point.”
Smith said two historic duo of Alexander and Curtis will help with that mental toughness as leaders. Curtis, center fielder, literally is a leader for the Rebel offense.
“Blain is going to be in that lead off spot for us for the third year in a row,” Smith noted. “He ignites us. He’s a spark plug. For a little guy, he has tremendous power. He can hit the ball to the gaps. He hits for a very high average with doubles and triples. He runs well, led our team last year in stolen bases.”
Curtis will set the table for the rest of the batting order including Alexander.
“Connor will be in the three hole for us again,” Smith said. “Last year he set a school record for batting average. He was batting .500 going into our last game. He ended up batting .485 for the season. He led our team in double and triples. He was second in RBIs.”
Other bats with pop in the Rebel lineup are Logan Steward and Gil Erwin. The juniors bat from the left side of the plate in the middle of the order. Another key bat and leader of the defense is catcher Jacob LaFosse. The senior backstop became the first to catch all the innings for a Brad Smith Rebel team.
“He’s a gamer and he’s just tough,” Smith said. “He’s a difference maker behind the plate on how he blocks the ball and minimizes the opponents run game.”
Another senior expected to be a game-changer is Xen Penny at second base. Penny brings speed to the base paths as well. Ripley transfer Conner Sanders is a solid all-around player and will be featured in the infield.
With the defense shaping up, pitchers like Alexander will rely the other eight on the field to limit opponents.  Alexander will be the ace of the program with his skill set attracting the Tigers.
“Connor is going to be the one,” Smith said. “Then you’re looking at the only other starting pitcher we have returning from last year as a sophomore was Gil Erwin. He’s a lefty and he’s a junior this year. Had a very good season last year.”
Other key arms will be sophomore Houston Hall, juniors Steven McDaniel, Sanders, Stewart and Nathan Whitley.
“I firmly believe if you have a bunch of good players and they all come together, and they care for one another as a team you’ll do fine,” Smith said. “I’d rather have a bunch of good players who really care about one another than a bunch of great players that only care about themselves. They’re not going to play hard for one another. As we led up to the start of the season, I think our kids care about one another. If we keep that up, we’ll be in the mix toward the end of the season.”
Smith said the 2014 Rebels can continue to make positive headlines and keep the good times rolling if they become a cohesive unit.
“Team chemistry is a big thing,” he said. “I think we do have the talent and some experience. Every year you have to count on young kids. We’ll have to have two, three or four sophomores step up for us. I talk to our kids each day about each is a piece to puzzle.
We have to have all our pieces to the puzzle,” Smith concluded. “But if you lose anyone of those piece, then your puzzle is not whole. The team is not whole. You have to know your role and do your role. And know that your role changes each year as you physically change.”

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