Nearly two weeks ago, the Forrest Rockets took off in what was a loaded Class 2A state tournament and even though Forrest were knocked out of the tournament with back-to-back losses to Pigeon Forge …
Nearly two weeks ago, the Forrest Rockets took off in what was a loaded Class 2A state tournament and even though Forrest were knocked out of the tournament with back-to-back losses to Pigeon Forge and White House Heritage, the comeback kids from Chapel Hill put forth an effort in the state tournament that was pretty representative of their season—they were never out of any game.
“I think I would sum it up to resilience and fight. They fought to the very end. We came from eight runs down against York to punch a ticket to the state tournament and we never looked back after that. The Riverside game was highly competitive. We knocked out the No. 1 pitcher on the No. 1 team in the state and we fought hard in extra innings against a very good White House Heritage team. I think that's the definition of resilience and fight,” Rocket coach Andy Burkett said.
After locking up the regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the District 7-AA tournament, the Rockets posted three postseason come-from-behind victories, including the thrilling 10-9 win over York Institute in the Class 2A sectional.
It’s been an outstanding year for the Rockets, highlighted by a 12-game win-streak at one point and included a district and region title as well.
For Burkett, the special sauce for the Rockets to come together was the sheer chemistry of the team and players stepping up at key points in the season.
“I think for us the difference was just believing in each other and doing it for one another. We had a great team filled with many talented players, but in addition to that, we had some great role guys step in and accomplish their respective jobs for their team,” he said.
“When you have a core group of players who are doing whatever it takes to win, you have something special in the mix. I was very proud of everything we accomplished this year.”
Having made the run to the state tournament with a veteran-laden team, Burkett says the experience gained by the returning underclassmen can’t be overvalued.
“My hope is that it keeps them hungry. They got a taste of it this year. Playing baseball in the month of May just means more, and I think they are beginning to understand that. We return a ton of talent for next year's team. We know the coaching staff is going to be eager to get going with this new crop, but it’s going to be up to the players to pick up that baton and continue to run with it,” Burkett said.
The 2022 run to the state tournament wasn’t uncharted waters for the Rockets, who played for a state championship in 2019.
This season did, however, mark the first 20-win season for Forrest since 2018.
“I think it means everything to us. It was our first 20 win season since 2018. It was our first regular season district title since 2017. It was our first district championship since 2017. It was our first Region championship since 2018. And it was our first sectional win and state tournament berth since 2019. I think these players laid the precedent and the expectation for what it means for Forrest baseball for this next group of players to come over the next several years,” Burkett said.
While the Rockets return plenty of talent for the 2023 season, the state tournament run would never have been possible without its core senior class of Cam Vaughn, Kain Moses, Andrew Timmons, Braden Bowyer and Austin Lampley.
“I don't think you ever really replace guys like Vaughn, Moses, Timmons, Bowyer, and Lampley. What they meant to our program is beyond significant,” Burkett said.
Each of the five seniors brought a different set of skills, from the reliable backstop play of and sky high on-base percentage as the Rockets leadoff batter, to the consistency in the field of Moses and Timmons, each of the seniors brought an invaluable amount of talent and reliability to the team.
“Vaughn was our table-setter and our energy from the time he arrived at Forrest his sophomore year. Moses has seen significant innings at both shortstop and on the mound since he was a freshman,” Burkett said.
“Bowyer pitched some of the biggest innings all year and really became a huge source of power for our lineup. Timmons is one of the best defensive centerfielders and handlers of the bat that I've ever coached, and Lampley was huge on the mound for us picking up some huge innings for us all year. Those boys mean the world to me, and think their impact will resonate with our future players for years to come.”
With the close of the 2022 season, now the onus falls on the returning players to put in the off-season work to defend their district and region titles, as well as make a push to the state tournament next season.
“We will host tryouts for next year's team a little later into June and then we will be done until September. We will begin offseason workouts and conditioning at that time. With our experience with the weight room from the football team, we look to get stronger as team both physically and mentally and begin our push toward success in 2023,” Burkett said.
Forrest closed the season as the District 7-AA and Region 4-AA champions, as well as a state sectional champion and state tournament qualifier.
The Rockets’ season included a state tournament opener win over Riverside, before the Rockets’ season came to a close with hard-fought losses to Pigeon Forge and White House Heritage.
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