Lady Rockets strive for perfection

Friday, March 6, 2015
Senior Katie Warrick (55) will provide plenty of offense for the Lady Rockets this season, while taking over the number one spot in the circle. Photos by Anthony S. Puca

Greatness comes from never being satisfied with coming in second in whatever you do.

Forrest softball walks the walk, staying the course, while rising above the most difficult situations made easier by a brand of instilled confidence, hard work, and a belly burning fire by the players to add their team's mark to the Lady Rockets' legacy.

They have the record to stand buy it.

Goal: Reach the top

Since the 2001-2002 season, Forrest has a 352-97-4 record, averaging 27 wins per season with 10 state tournament appearances.

"Our goal every year is to be number one in the state," said Forrest coach Becky Cheatham. "Some schools may be satisfied with winning their district tournament, I'm not saying we aren't happy with that, but we want to keep playing and achieve great things."

In those 13 years, the Lady Rockets have claimed one state title, three runner-up finishes, every district tournament title, seven region titles, plus a stellar 9-1 record in sub-state games, which many coaches and observers feel is the toughest test of the season.

Forrest's only sectional loss came in 2003-2004 when Franklin Road Academy won 5-1.

Last season

In 2013-2014 the Lady Rockets made another run at glory, putting up their second best record of all-time at 31-9 and third 30-win season, while sweeping through the District 9-A and Region 5-A Tournaments unblemished.

"I hate giving up games to anybody, losing the district to Moore County did not sit well with me," said Cheatham. "But, we turned it around when it was important and it was a lot of fun to win the district tournament over there."

After a tough 8-7 win over Nashville Christian in the opening round of the region tournament, the Lady Rockets came up with an 8-1 blowout win over Houston County to advance to the sectional round.

Standing in the way of Forrest's third consecutive trip to the Spring Fling was the defending state champions Richland Lady Raiders, who travelled to the Field of Dreams in Chapel Hill where they became another sub-state victim, losing 6-2.

"Because we had been there and done that, I know how hard it is to repeat," said Cheatham. "I knew if we could jump on them early we could hold our own with them and we did more than that, I was really pleased."

State play

After opening up state tournament play with a 12-3 win over University School from Johnson City, the Lady Rockets ran in to the best pitcher in Class-A in Cori Jennings, who tossed a two-hit, complete game shutout win.

"Not only was she the best pitcher in the state, she was better than the Renfroe girls from Trinity Christian in 07, 08, and 09," said Cheatham.

The big bats that set school records for homeruns in a season heated up the following day, but not enough in a 7-4 loss to Columbia Academy that ended Forrest's season.

Getting started

Bad weather has been the only pre-season issue for the Lady Rockets, who like all the spring sports teams in Tennessee, have gotten very little field time.

"I don't think we have had any time in the pre-season, where just haven't gotten the work on the field, but physically, athletically and strength-wise we should be in great shape," said Cheatham. "Unless someone is out in Arizona training, we should be ahead of everyone else."

This year's ball club is a strong as ever even after the loss of two big cogs in the lineup in Sara Jordan and Liz Daughrity.

"Those are going to be big shoes to fill, especially from the hitting stand point, they both carried big bats," said Cheatham. "I am anxious to see who is going to step up and do some big hitting for us."

Senior center fielder Kiyoko Puca (14) will spearhead the small ball attack for the Lady Rockets this season with her speed.

Senior core

Making up the nucleus of the squad are four seniors in Katie Warrick, Kiyoko Puca, Savannah Brothers, and Briar Mays, who returns to the team after a three-year hiatus.

"I am going to expect these seniors to step up big," said Cheatham. "They are going to have to put everybody on their shoulders and carry them."

Warrick and Puca have been with the Lady Rockets full-time since eighth-grade and combined with Brothers, who came up after the middle school season in eighth grade, the three have appeared in three state tournaments apiece.

Plate and mound

Warrick, a UT Martin signee is the pillar of the team as its leading hitter and run producer, while taking on the number one role in the circle for Forrest this season.

Senior backstop Savannah Brothers (12), who has been a workhorse behind the plate for the Lady Rockets, will get some help with the catching duties this year at Forrest.

Brothers is solid behind the plate and with the added help provided by some younger players at the catcher position, Brothers should bounce back offensively this season.

"It's tough on a catcher playing game after game after game, so that should be a plus for us and for Savannah," said Cheatham.

Puca, coming off her second concussion in four years was limited in duty late last season, but is healthy and ready to go, providing her patented speed in the small ball game from the number two hole in the batting order, while locking down the center field spot.

"We hope to go back and utilize our small ball strategy that made us so successful in the past," said Cheatham. "We have more team speed than we have ever had and that puts so much pressure on the defense."

Mays, who also has great speed, played travel ball in Georgia the past three years and recently signed with Roane State Community College.

Mays can also slap and hit with some pop, and with her and Puca in the outfield, few very balls will drop anywhere in the green.

"Boy, I can't wait to see that, that just sends shivers down my spine," said Cheatham. "Even when we get that third spot filled, we are going to have a lot of speed out there and I don't expect to see many balls fall."

The right field spot is not settled yet with several players battling in camp with Kelsie Darnell, Amanda Patterson, Rickee Gayle Carter, Jasmine Runk, Makayla Feller, and Emma Stacey all in the mix.

New at first

Samantha King takes over for Daughrity at first base and brings big power to the lineup, while being a solid defender.

"From what little bit we have seen in practice, Sam will be fine at first base, she is a big target over there," said Cheatham. "We are going to improve defensively, we have made a commitment to do that and we will."

Piper Elmore, coming off a huge second half off the season last year will be asked to do more as an RBI maker this year, while providing the lock-down at second base.

"Also, from what we have seen so far, Piper has that position locked down, but we expect her to step up her game even more this year," said Cheatham.

Versatility is the name of the game on the left side of the infield as Warrick, Lainey Mays, and Jordan Yelensky are like three inter-changeable parts that play shortstop, third base, and are the three top pitchers on the squad.

Noisy bats

Both Mays and Yelensky are solid defensive players and are two of the best hitters on the entire team.

"I expect both of those girls to pick up where they left off last season and get even better, making a lot of noise with their bats," said Cheatham.

Brooke Paul is making a run at the backup position at shortstop and second base and will look to make a big contribution this season.

"Brooke can do a very good job for us, we are looking for her to just gain some confidence and feel comfortable," said Cheatham. "I like her height there at shortstop, she has the fundaments, I just want to see her take charge and be aggressive on the field."

Forrest Lady Rockets 2015 Schedule
Date TimeOpponent
Mon Mar. 9 Eagleville D
Tue Mar. 10 5:00 PM Community D
Wed Mar. 11 5:00 PM at Independence
Thu Mar. 12 5:00 PM at Fayetteville D
Fri Mar. 13 6:00 PM at Columbia
Tue Mar. 17 5:00 PM Middle Tennessee Christian D
Thu Mar. 19 at Huntland D
Fri Mar. 20 5:00 PM at Spring Hill
Mon Mar. 23 5:00 PM Moore County D
Mon Mar. 30 5:00 PM at A. Crawford Mosley (FL)
Tue Mar. 31 5:00 PM at Walton (FL)
Wed Apr. 1 5:00 PM at Rutherford (FL)
Mon Apr. 6 5:00 PM at Community D
Tue Apr. 7 4:30 PM at Moore County D
Wed Apr. 8 5:00 PM Page
Fri Apr. 10 Raptor Classic at Crockett Park
Sat Apr. 11 Raptor Classic at Crockett Park
Mon Apr. 13 4:30 PM at Middle Tennessee Christian D
Tue Apr. 14 5:00 PM Shelbyville
Wed Apr. 15 5:00 PM at Page
Thu Apr. 16 5:30 PM Huntland D
Fri Apr. 17 Lincoln Co. Border Battle at Lincoln County, Fayetteville, TN
Sat Apr. 18 Lincoln Co. Border Battle at Lincoln County, Fayetteville, TN
Mon Apr. 20 5:00 PM Columbia
Tue Apr. 21 5:00 PM Fayetteville D
Wed Apr. 22 5:00 PM at Eagleville D
Fri Apr. 24 Franklin/Sonic Tournament at Fly Park, Franklin, TN
Sat Apr. 25 Franklin/Sonic Tournament at Fly Park, Franklin, TN

D: Denotes District 9-A game