By Thomas Sellers Jr.
MURFREESBORO – Since taking over the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Baseball program 11 years ago, Brad Smith expects his team last game to be played at Middle Tennessee State every season.
TRA has reached the Division II-A State Baseball tournament in 2009, 2012 and 2014 playing for the championship in ’09 and ’14. When the calendar recently turned to May 2018, not too many gave this year’s Rebels a chance to be playing in the final contest for Division II-A.
But there they were last Thursday. The squad of blondes was unbeaten in the State Tournament coming into the championship against the Christian Academy of Knoxville Warriors. CAK was able to overwhelm TRA 10-0 to force a winner-take-all final game later that day.
The Warriors jumped out 5-0 after two innings. The Rebels rallied including a big hit from senior Corey Mitson to deadlock the game at 5-5. Freshman left-hander pitcher Zach Seward kept the Warriors off balance giving TRA a chance.
But CAK earned a run in the top of the seventh inning to win the 2018 Division II-A State Baseball title.
“This group I have here deserves to be State champions,” Smith said. “We just didn’t get it done today. I knew what we were capable of, a State Tournament run.
“We were a four seed and I know we weren’t supposed to be here,” he continued. “I expected us to be here. I always expect that. Sometimes the ball has to fall your way. And on top of that you have to play good baseball when you get here. We did that for the most part.”
The Rebels played good baseball since the beginning of May as the fourth seed out of the West Region. TRA beat Goodpasture 8-5 to earn a spot in the Sectional Series at Knoxville Webb. The Rebels dropped the first game to Webb 7-1. Then TRA blasted them 13-3 to set up a decisive third game. The Rebels outlasted Knoxville Webb 6-3 to reach State.
TRA entered the Division II-A State Tournament with a record of 28-15. Meanwhile CAK was 30-11, Christ Presbyterian Academy 32-7 and University School of Jackson 31-2.
TRA finally reached the 30-win mark beating CPA 7-3 and CAK 3-1 in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.
Smith said they clicked and displayed a strong bond over those two weeks. The unity was clear for everybody to see led by seniors Parker Wells, Alex Langford, Tyler Flynn, AJ Green, Cameron Berry and Mitson.
“Once we got together during the offseason, we looked at each other and said ‘This is the time we can really have a chance,’” Green recalled. “We made it clear in the offseason if we make it to State we were going to dye our hair. As soon as we clinched that State birth, we all went and dyed our hair the next day. We came together as a team and it just feels better.”
All the Rebels sported blonde, light brown or platinum hairdos on their road to Murfreesboro. With noted he had a solid foundation with the quartet of Wells, Mitson, Flynn and Langford. Then the addition of Berry and Green gave TRA the boost it needed to make this run.
“We’ve just been playing good baseball, coming out here having fun,” Berry recalled. “We weren’t supposed to make it to this point. I think that’s what fueled us.
“It feels great to make it this far,” he added. “Unfortunately we didn’t get to make it all the way. But it felt great with this senior class. We’re really close. We’re like a family. This baseball team is a family. I can’t thank those guys enough.”
Green is also grateful for his one season competing for the Red, White and Blue of TRA.
“I want to thank Coach Smith and the other coaches for giving us an opportunity,” he said. “It’s hard to come over from public school to private school and sitting out a year. Seeing that one year go by and then coming together as a senior group, Cam and I have been through it all.
“We’ve had four years of high school baseball together,” Green continued. “We started our first game together and played our last game together. Something special, I’ll always remember him, this great group of seniors and all those who helped to put together this amazing run.”
TRA has its third State runner-up finish in school history. The 2018 squad will earn a plaque picture right next to 2009 and 2014.
“That senior group deserved to win this today,” Smith said. “They have been everything I thought they were when they came in as eighth graders. They are special individuals.
“I have been extremely hard on them since they’ve been eighth graders and pushed them to be the best they can possibly be,” he added. “They have responded.”
Flynn earned a college scholarship to CBU. Mitson will take his talents to SIU and Langford made history by becoming TRA’s first position player to sign Division I with Arkansas-Little Rock. Smith said Wells’ team-first approach and vocal leadership was vital. And the duo of Berry and Green had an immeasurable impact.
“Then we had the addition of Cam and AJ,” he said. “They got dealt a tough hand other there and they transferred in to us. Those two individuals have been with us for two years, great kids. They come from great people.
“I’m fortunate enough to coach good kids,” Smith concluded. “Kids who things the right way and are parented the right way. All kids need a little push in the back sometimes. They deserved this. They deserved to be in that game. They will live on the wall forever.”
The 2018 TRA Rebel Baseball team members are Peyton Ryan, Jaxon Pennington, AJ Green, Parker Wells, Tyler Byrd, Logan Jones, Zach Seward, Tyler Flynn, Cameron Berry, Tucker James, Jacob Dodson, Will Turner, Logan Notto, John May, Corey Mitson, Patrick Green, Shae Nolen, Alex Langford and Christian Stafford.
By Thomas Sellers Jr.