By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Visit four websites and you can tell the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels have a lot to replace from the best season in school history.
TRA graduates Xen Penny, Jacob LaFosse, Blain Curtis and Connor Alexander all played a huge part in guiding the 2014 Rebels to the Division II-A State Baseball title game. Now you can keep up with them at opsuaggies.com (Penny), athletics.southwest.tn.edu (LaFosse), gobucsgo.com (Curtis) or gotigersgo.com (Alexander).
Despite that quartet gone, TRA Head Coach Brad Smith still has the same goal for his Rebels entering the 2015 season.
“Our focus it to get to that final four at State,” he said. “As we know if you get there, anything can happen. We graduated a great group and I am excited for them. But I got a good group of guys and seniors returning.”
The Class of 2015 features pitching, hitting and defense with Gil Erwin, Logan Stewart, Conner Sanders and Nathan Whitley.
Last year Whitley had a statistical pitching season for the ages going 9-0 with a 1.25 ERA. When he’s not on the rubber, Whitley will see action in the outfield.
In seasons past, Smith could call on the likes of Alexander, Andrew Ralston or David Owen to take on the best of the best from the mound. Owen is now the No. 1 guy at Arkansas State. Meanwhile back in Flag City Erwin is slotted as TRA’s go-to guy this season.
“Gil pitched in a lot of big games for us last year and won several,” Smith noted. “We’ll pitch him in many key spots this year.”
After Erwin and Whitley, hurlers like junior Houston Hall will be in the mix as a starter. Seniors Stewart and Sanders will be counted on in relief roles.
Emerging as a No. 4 starter is Corey Mitson. The freshman is ranked No. 1 player for the Class of 2018 in Tennessee. He is a right-handed pitcher with the potential to be on the level of Owen and Alexander by the time he’s an upperclassman according to Smith.
Mitson’s classmate Tyler Flinn will also get a look from the varsity mound this season. Another TRA freshman to keep an eye on will be Alex Langford at catcher replacing LaFosse. Langsford has proven his strength and work ethic as the top draft choice the past two years in the Rebels’ Murfreesboro Challenge in the fall.
Other key contributors this season will be juniors Zack James and Brandon Whitfield. They are expected to surround Sanders in the infield. Smith said Sanders will be his leader in the infield from the shortstop position.
Smith also noted Sanders is one of the best No. 2 hitters he has ever coached. Sanders will follow the 6’4 Hall in the lineup.
“A 6’4 lead-soft guy, you don’t see that too often,” Smith said. “I like the approach he brought to the plate hitting line drives all over the field. And he has a good baseball IQ to go along with a gift of speed.”
Stewart will bring power to the third spot in the lineup. Then players like Erwin, Whitfield, Langford and Montgomery follow in the order.
“The key to us this year, we’re going to have to compete every game well from the mound,” Smith concluded. “We don’t have that go-to, lights-out arm. Gil might end up being that guy. But I do know I have solid high school arms that can compete and keep you in a game. We have to make plays. If we do that, we’ll do well this year.”