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Everyone knew the end would finally come. And everyone associated with the Anderson County-Shelby County high school athletic rivalry knew it would happen on the baseball or softball diamond.
But few could have imagined the end being a series of exclamation points instead of a period.
And after Shelby outlasted Anderson 10-9 last Thursday, some on both sides lamented the end of the rivalry as it stands now.
While there will still be a Shelby County High School, the current school is splitting with the opening of Martha Layne Collins High on the west side of Shelbyville next year.
The current seniors have split four regional and four district championships between them. Overall, Shelby won six of the 10 games played in that time, but over that period Anderson scored 65 runs, Shelby 61. Yes, the rivalry really has been that close.
“It is hard not to be (rivals),” Anderson catcher Matt Fogle said Saturday. “Every game is so close. We are always the best teams in the district and region.”
“Every year, we play for the district championship and have played several times for the regional championship,” Shelby’s Eric Standafer said. “Every game means something.”
The teams have played for the 30th District title every season since 2005 and all but one year since 1999. They have played for the last two regional championships and did so three other times since 2000.
It was extra-special for both teams this year. For Shelby, the motivation was obvious. The Rockets were regional favorites in the final year before the split.
Anderson, however, was not considered a regional contender when the season started in March. After all, the Bearcats had graduated several starters and nearly all of a great pitching staff. “Nobody expected us to be there, then we went 11 innings against Shelby County,” said Fogle. “At the end, we came together. That made it special.”
As Thursday’s battle wore on, those inside the foul lines were adding to the legacy of a rivalry that goes back to Shelbyville and Lawrencburg high schools but has intensified on the baseball diamond in the last 11 years.
It is heated, but loaded with respect. A tenth-inning play underscored it.
“When I stole second base, and (Shelby shortstop Tyler) Tipton went high for the throw, he came down on me,” said Anderson’s Kyle DeLong. “He asked me if I was all right. I asked him if he was OK.”
As Shelby coach Bart Roettger made a visit to the pitching mound, DeLong and Tipton could be seen chatting at second base. “He said, ‘You know, it seems like this every time we play,” DeLong said.
What made the rivalry special?
“Everything,” said Shelby’s Matthew Purdom. “This game was handed down from the players before us. I was talking with (Jacob) Russell at first base and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter if one of us is the best team in the state and the other is the worst team in the state, it is still going to be a good game.
“We have had so many big games that I think we have earned each other’s respect.”
The Anderson players would agree.
“You can’t not respect them when that kind of baseball is being played,” Fogle said.
In August the second school in Shelby County will open. There will be a rivalry but Shelby’s biggest game will now be Collins. Anderson will try to beat both.
“No way it will be the same,” said Fogle, who graduated on May 28. “Here, all the best athletes from the county are at one school. There, it is the same way right now.”
Standafer, also a senior, might have been on the opposite side last Thursday but agrees, “It just won’t be the same,” he said.