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The wall on the Rockwood baseball fieldhouse says it all. The wall lists district, region, sectional and state tournament appearances from past years.
Before this season, Rockwood’s Class of 2013 had their names on the first three, but true Tiger greatness is measured by having your class under the fourth column, the state tournament. Now Rockwood seniors Jared Breazeale, Riley Clem, Matt Cofer, Hayden Freels, Tavin Napier and Hunter Robbins will be remembered among the best teams ever to wear the green and gold as they punched their ticket to the state tourney with a 2-1 victory over Unaka Friday in the TSSAA Sectional.
“It’s important to us,” Clem said of making the state tournament. “This has been a goal of ours since we’ve been here. It means a lot to me because my brother (Chase) went to the state tournament twice.”
“This shows we’re as good as all those great teams that have played here,” Napier added. “It means a lot to end your career at the state tournament.”
“There’s a lot of tradition in Rockwood,” Robbins said. “It’s something you can show your kids later in life.”
Rockwood head coach Jake Witter says the group had accomplished a lot before 2013, but admits this senior class had lofty goals after losing in extra innings in last year’s sectional.
“I’m proud of these guys and how hard they’ve worked. They’re not just good baseball players, they’re good kids,” he said. “They had done a lot, they won a district and been to the sectional, but the state tournament had eluded them.
“They were under a lot of pressure this year because our main goal has been to make it to the state tournament and it’s not been easy. Our district is tough, there are four other teams that can beat you at any time. Just getting out of the district is a challenge.”
“It never entered our mind,” Napier said of the 2013 season being one of state tournament or bust. “For us, losing is not an option. When we step onto the field, we expect to win so we’re not surprised as to how it worked out.”
A killer offense is a big reason why the Tigers expect to win. Entering state tournament play, Rockwood’s offense is No. 1 in the state in runs scored, and the Tigers are hot, winning 19 of their last 20 games. Coach Witter says his team’s success comes from hard work in the offseason.
“These guys have found a way to do what it takes to get it done,” he said. “A lot of these guys are good athletes in other sports and there were times in the summer that they would have football workouts in the morning, basketball in the afternoon and summer baseball in the evening. But they worked hard and now they’re reaping the rewards of that hard work.”
Breazeale says it’s easy to work hard when you have good chemistry.
“We’re so close,” he said. “We trust in each other. We’ve been playing so long together that we don’t want to let each other down.”
“We’ve got each others back,” Freels added. “It’s good knowing you’re going out in the state tournament with the guys you grew up with.”
While getting to the state tournament would make any team happy, Rockwood has a chip on their shoulder, as they have something to prove in Murfreesboro.
“People like to down baseball in East Tennessee,” Witter said. “Outside of Decatur County Riverside winning three in a row, the state tournament has been dominated by private schools and East Tennessee teams haven’t been in that mix, but I hope they take us lightly. We’re excited to be there and I know we’ll play our hearts out and let the chips fall where they may.”
“We’ve got a point to prove,” Breazeale added. “Everybody wants to say that we’ve got a mediocre pitching staff and we’ve played a weak schedule so we’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve played a lot of good teams along the way.”
So what’s it going to take for the Tigers to make some noise in Murfreesboro.
“We’ve got to play Rockwood baseball,” Robbins said. “We have to play our game, be error free and hit the baseball.”
“We’ve got to stay focused,” Cofer added. “It’s going to take solid ball, but that’s what we’ve been doing. If we play Rockwood baseball, we’ll be fine.”