Rockets rally past York, walk off on Gentry's hit

By Chris Siers ~
Posted 5/20/22

CHAPEL HILL — It’s the stuff kids dream of— back against the wall, win or go home, deliver the big hit or see the season end. Most kids dream of it. Preston Gentry and the Forrest …

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Rockets rally past York, walk off on Gentry's hit


CHAPEL HILL — It’s the stuff kids life for — back against the wall, win or go home, deliver the big hit or see the season end.
Most kids dream of it.
Preston Gentry and the Forrest Rockets got to live it.
In the most improbable of rallies, Forrest erased a 9-1 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning against York Institute in the Class 2A state sectional on Friday afternoon, forced extra innings, and then punched their ticket to the upcoming Class 2A state tournament with a walk-off RBI single by Gentry in the bottom of the eighth.
Gentry’s hit finished the Rockets’ 10-9 win over the Dragons.
“I just told them that there are good teams in this world. There are great teams in this world. There are tough teams in this world. There are gritty teams in this world. And then there’s the 2022 Forrest Rockets. They are never out of any ballgame, whatsoever,” Rocket coach Andy Burkett said.
Friday’s sectional was a rollercoaster of emotions for both teams, to say the least.
York took an early lead off a solo homer that appeared to be a routine fly ball to left, but was carried over the fence during the gusty first inning.
The solo homer by Missouri commit Nicolas Smith off Forrest starter Riley Durbin was just one of three base runners the Dragons managed in the first five innings.
York put another runner on base on a Rocket error in the infield and a second that came on another Forrest error on a fly ball to left that got caught in the wind.
Aside from that, Durbin was dialed in and the Dragons were simply unable to figure out a way to put runners on base.
Durbin sat down eight in a row at one point and struck out the side twice, allowing Forrest to stay well-within striking distance.
After three innings, York opted to go to the bullpen, despite Smith’s effectiveness on the mound.
Smith pitched the first three innings for the Dragons and didn’t give up a hit.
The only Rocket base runners that were able to reach came via Dragon error.
Still, Forrest continued to press the offensive mindset and try to create opportunities on the base paths.
That aggressive mentality finally paid dividends in the bottom of the fifth.
After Andrew Timmons was hit by a pitch with one out, and a pair of back-to-back walks by York relief pitcher Caden Stover, the Rockets saw the bases loaded with just one out.
Kason Fuller laid down a perfect bunt, allowing the Rockets to score the tying run, with just one out.
But after the Rockets drove home the tying run in the bottom of the fifth, the Dragons went on to take a three-run lead after back-to-back two-RBI base hits by Blaine York and Seth Helbig.
Things continued to spiral in the Dragons’ favor with a huge seventh inning.
After reliever Ashton Grubbs struck out the first batter of the inning, York answered with three-straight hits to load the bases.
It wasn’t until Tanner Talellent drove home two on a RBI single to right and Blaine York laced a two RBI double to right that the game appeared to teeter out of hand.
The Dragons tacked on one more run in the five-run seventh on a RBI single by Helbig.
By the end of the inning, York Institute had built a 9-1 lead, all but clinching a trip to the state tournament.
But as this season has proven, Forrest can’t be counted out of any game.
Senior catcher Cam Vaughn led off what may be the biggest seventh-inning in school history with a double to center.
Two batters later, Kason Fuller ignited the biggest inning of the season for the Rockets with a RBI single to right.
Brennan Mealer followed up and drove home two more on a double to right, cutting the Dragons’ lead to 9-3.
Still, Forrest had no outs and Braden Bowyer stepped to the plate and launched a two-run shot to dead-center, making it a 9-5 score.
Forrest continued to wreak havoc on the Dragon bullpen when the Rockets got two more RBI singles in the inning off the bats of Vaughn and Durbin, but it was a score by Vaughn on a York error that knotted the game at nine apiece and completed the rally.
“We were trying to steal, we were trying to drag bunt. We were trying to make something happen. We had a couple of unfortunate plays where we had some bunts go right back to the pitcher. That kind of put us behind the eight-ball. Once we were able to grind it out enough and get an opportunity to pass the bat to the next guy—can’t say enough about their effort out there,” Burkett said.
After Vaughn let out an emphatic yell after scoring the tying run in the bottom of the seventh, the momentum completely shifted in the Rockets’ favor and Moses, who took over on the mound in the top of the seventh, recorded a perfect, 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Brennan Mealer then stepped to the plate and appeared to have hit a walk-off home run, but it was ruled a ground rule double.
York went on to load the bases, bringing Gentry to the plate, with just one out.
It was his one-hopper that found the outfield, allowing pinch runner Levi Van Patten to score from third and punch the Rockets’ ticket to the Class 2A state tournament next week in Murfreesboro.
Despite elite-level pitching from both rosters, both teams connected on 10 hits.
“We knew their top two guys were good. They’re mid to high 80s pitchers. They kept us off balance. We knew if we could get to their bullpen, we could have a chance to swing the bat,” Burkett said.
Fuller, Mealer and Bowyer all drove home a pair of runs, while Vaughn went 2-for-4 with a double.
Mealer also had a solid afternoon at the plate, going 2-for-5 with two doubles.
As impressive as the Rockets were against the Dragons’ pitching staff late in the game, it was Durbin’s efforts that kept them alive for the majority of the game.
He went six innings of stellar baseball on the mound for the Rockets, allowing four runs on five hits, while striking out eight.
“He (Durbin) absolutely grinded it out. He was pitching so well. We had a great game plan for those guys at the plate. We wanted to stay away from Smith. He’s a dangerous player. He’s a Missouri commit for a reason and you saw that in the first inning when he got the home run. We were able to settle in and figure out how to pick this lineup apart here and there. He gave us every opportunity to win the ballgame today,” Burkett said.
Moses took the win, pitching 1 1/3 innings in relief.
Having completed one of the greatest come-from-behind victories in the mid-state, Burkett couldn’t hide a smile while celebrating with his team after Friday’s win.
"I’m so happy. I’m so incredibly happy. Short of the day I got married and short of the birth of my two kids, this is probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” he said.
While Friday’s win was certainly a highlight of the season up to this point, Burkett and the Rockets are setting their sights even higher next week.
“I just love these boys and I don’t want this ride to be over yet. We’re going to do everything in our power to go get that ring in Murfreesboro,” he said.
“It’s been a hell of a ride being their coach. I’m damn proud of these boys.”
Forrest will begin its trek for the state championship on Tuesday evening in Murfreesboro.

York Institute 100 003 50 — 9 10 4
Forrest 000 010 81 — 10 10 3

Forrest: Camden Vaughn 2-for-4, Riley Durbin 1-for-3, Kason Fuller 2-for-5, Brennan Mealer 2-for-5, Braden Bowyer 1-for-4, Kain Moses 1-for-5, Preston Gentry 1-for-5.
2B: Mealer (2), Vaughn
HR: Bowyer
WP: Moses
LP: Haley


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