Never say die Rockets headed to Spring Fling
The comeback kids are alive and well and they are the 2017-2018 Forrest Rockets.
The Chapel Hill squad continued its postseason magic in a Class AA state sectional game at Chapel Hill Friday night, coming from behind twice to beat Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet School (MLK) 7-6 on a J.T. Ferguson walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Ferguson and his senior classmates that graduated on Saturday have won four consecutive region titles, three district titles, and are 2-2 in state sectional games with the last win coming two years ago versus Grace Christian- Franklin.
They are 6-2 in the postseason this year and are a remarkable 6-0 in potential elimination contests.
“I keep saying it and don’t know how many times I will have to say it,” Forrest coach Bart Joyce said. “This group, that’s their thing, they just go out and fight and they grind, every inning, it’s every inning.”
This team has won everything except the coveted state title and they have an excellent opportunity to take a big step forward when they take the field in Tuesday night’s opening round of the TSSA Spring Fling XV versus Covington at 6:30 p.m. at Blackmon High School in Murfreesboro.
“It’s a new season,” Joyce said. “I’m just so proud of all 25 of these guys and I told them a new season starts Tuesday and not to be satisfied and keep going and I know they will and we can’t wait till next week.”
Even Mother Nature could not get in the way of Rocket momentum on Friday night as the game was delayed nearly an hour because of a gully washer.
MLK jumped on the Rockets early, sending nine batters to the plate and scoring three times in the top of the first inning off Forrest starting pitcher Dustin Brashear, who came back to pitch a 1-2-3 second inning before being relieved by Ethan Mealer.
“Dustin started the game with the most rest and just didn’t have his best stuff, but he kept us in the ballgame,” Joyce said. “Mealer threw the ball well, it was just a team effort, on the mound, at the plate, on the field, everywhere.”
Forrest came up with an unearned run in the bottom of the second inning to make it 3-1 and Mealer set down the Knights 1-2-3 in the top of the third.
Dylan Eady reached on a one-out error in the bottom of the inning and Brashear followed with a base hit.
After a Forrest strikeout, Ryan Moses knocked in Eady with an RBI single and Mealer followed with a laser over the center fielder’s head, plating two more runs to give the Rockets a 4-3 lead.
The Knights loaded the bases with three consecutive hits to start the fourth inning and tied the game on a Forrest error before taking back the lead on a bases loaded RBI walk to Brennan Dubose.
With the infield in, Xavier Sheppard hit a blooper towards right field that was snagged on a nice play by Forrest second baseman Brett Burnham, who threw to first for a double play and then Burnham also caught the third out on another pop-up.
Drew Daughrity and Ferguson led off the bottom of the inning with back-to-back base hits and after a force out at third, Eady drilled a two-run double to the fence in right/center field, giving Forrest a 6-5 lead.
MLK scored an unearned run in the fifth inning to tie the game at 6-6 and Knights’ starting pitcher Josh James escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the home half of the inning.
Mealer began to pick up some serious steam as he struck out the side in order in the top of the sixth inning, but the Rockets squandered a scoring opportunity in the home half of the inning when they failed to score with the bases loaded and no outs.
Mealer struck out the first two batters in the top of the seventh and Ferguson made a running catch in center field for the third out.
Mealer worked a walk off James to start the bottom of the seventh inning and Devon Aydelot came in to run for the Forrest pitcher.
James uncorked a throwing error on an attempted pickoff play at first and Aydelot took second base.
James was taken out of the game and Tucker McCreary came on in relief and promptly walked Eady.
Daughrity moved both runners up with a grounder to the right side, setting the stage for Ferguson, who worked a full count and fouled off two pitches before ripping the game-winner to centerfield that scored Aydelot standing up and sent the Rockets to the Spring Fling for the third time in the last six years.
“This is unreal, this is crazy, we have come so far the last couple of weeks, it’s been insane,” Ferguson said. “We were underdogs most of the postseason, we were a four-seed in the district tournament and what we have accomplished is unreal, but I’ll tell you what, we ain’t done yet.”
The eight Class AA state tournament participants are Forrest (22-15), Covington (31-9), Elizabethton (26-8), Stewart County (24-6), Grundy County (23-10), Decatur County-Riverside (24-9-1), Greeneville (24-11-1), and Smith County (22-11).
Covington (1999, 2006) and Riverside (2010, 2011, 2012) are the only two teams in the field that have won state titles.
Mealer is 3-0 on the mound in the postseason, allowing four runs (one earned) on 14 hits and striking out 23 and walking two, while Eady is 2-0 with a save and he has given up five runs (three earned) on 12 hits and has struck out 16 and walked three. Brashear and Grayson Whaley have one win apiece in the playoffs.
“It was awesome, I felt like I had to redeem myself from last year’s loss in this exact game when I pitched, so it just feels good to get it back and take my team to state,” Mealer said. “It was a close ballgame and I was not ready to lose my seniors. I love them and I had to stick with it for them.”
“We have been doubted and everything else we had to do like moving up (classification), so we just had to come together as a team and get it done.”
The Rockets have a 3-5 record in the state tournament and finished as runner-up in the 2006 season.
MLK 300 210 0-6 8 5
Forrest 013 200 1-7 11 3
MLK: Joe Worth 2-for-2, Baron Patterson 1-for-4, Xavier Shepherd 1-for-4, DJ Porter 1-for-4, Jomai Douangvilay 1-for-4, Will Von Schipmann 1-for-3, Tucker McCreary 1-for-3.
RS: Worth 2, Patterson, Brennan Dubose, Shepherd, Von Schipmann.
BB: Dubose 2.
RBI: Worth, Von Schipmann, Dubose, Porter.
ROE: Von Schipmann 2, Patterson.
PIK: Von Schipmann, Dubose.
Team LOB: 5
E: Von Schipmann 2, Josh James 2, Porter.
DP: Von Schipmann.
LP: Josh James.
Forrest: Ethan Mealer 3-for-3, Dustin Brashear 2-for-4, JT Ferguson 2-for-4, Dylan Eady 1-for-3, Ryan Moses 1-for-4, Blaize Sweeney 1-for-3, Drew Daughrity 1-for-4.
RS: Ferguson, Jaylen Smith, Eady, Brashear, Grayson Whaley, Devon Aydelot.
BB: Smith, Mealer, Eady, Sweeney.
2B: Eady, Mealer.
RBI: Eady 2, Mealer 2, Moses, Ferguson.
ROE: Eady, Daughrity, Brashear, Whaley, Sweeney.
FC: Ferguson, Smith, Whaley.
Team LOB: 8
E: Brett Burnham, Mealer, Sweeney.
WP: Ethan Mealer (5IP, 5H, 3R, 1ER, 5K, 1BB), Dustin Brashear (2IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 1K, 1BB).