By Thomas Sellers Jr.
On the eve of the 2014 postseason, the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels were relaxed and handling business in the regular-season finale.
The crosstown rival Millington Trojans were at Rebel Field April 29. TRA jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning behind the pitching of junior Steven McDaniel and the hitting of top of the order.
The Rebels continued the combination of solid pitching and hitting to win the game 14-2. The win over the Trojans improved TRA’s mark to 26-6 overall.
Despite the impressive record, division title and other honors, TRA Head Coach Brad Smith said he reminds his team a season is determined successful by what happens in May.
“I talk to my senior guys all the time and I have a poster in our dugout,” he said. “I’ve talked to them since day one, ‘When you leave here, what it your legacy going to be?’ Not getting out of the Region Tournament? Going to Sub-State? Going to the State Tournament? Or winning it all? You’re going to be known as something when you leave here. The Class of 2014, what did you achieve? They’ve bought into it.”
Back in the fall Smith gave all his players the Murfreesboro Challenge preparing them to have an attitude to win an inning at a time in May. Smith also designed the challenge to improve his players physical endurance.
The preparation has paid off so far with TRA winning their division and racking up 26 victories behind the solid pitching of Memphis signee Connor Alexander and junior Nathan Whitley.
“What we’ve done this season is really irrelavant starting this Friday,” Smith noted that Tuesday night. “Everything you do before May is trying to get you ready for the month of May. So when we start Friday, we’re 0-0 just like everybody else. We’ve got one goal, to make it to the State Tournament and win it.”
Since arriving at TRA seven years ago, Smith has taken two teams to the Division II-A State Tournament finishing second in 2009. On both of those teams was Jordan Wilson. Now Wilson is an assistant coach on Smith’s staff.
“He’s been there and done that,” Smith noted. “He’s not too old to where the kids know what he did here. They know what his legacy is here as a player and what he accomplished individually and what his teams did. When he talks, they tend to listen.”
Wilson said the current group of Rebels are the hardest working bunch he’s seen around a ballfield. The players have soaked in the lessons from Wilson and other former Rebels who pop in to check on the program like Jacob Johnson and Dustin Whitlock.
“It makes me feel pretty good to have older players come back and watch us,” Smith said. “To have them be a part of us now, we are where we are because of them. I want them to know that.”
Now the Rebels are on the brink of making another run to State. Smith said along with a little luck, his team has to get back to basics all this May.
“We have to continue to play well,” he said. “We have to do the things we know to do, compete in the zone, throw strikes, make routine plays. This team is talented.
“I don’t know why and I can’t put my fingers on it exactly, there’s something about this team right here,” Smith concluded. “I’ve said it before we won the first of our 26 ball games, ‘Something is special here. This team is special.’ We expect to win every time we put our cleats on.”