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Rockets loaded, ready for another run - Team looks to get back to state tourney

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By Todd Martin

The Shelby County baseball team made an improbable run to the state tournament last year, finishing as state runners-up. This year the Rockets look to get one win further.

First-year head coach Bart Roettger said he believes the 2008 Rockets can make that run.

"At the beginning of the year, I wasn't so sure," he said. "But between fall baseball, our winter workouts and our preseason, I think we're going to be a very good baseball team. We lost a ton of talent, but I think we can play with anybody. We have a lot of depth at every position, and I think we're going to be right there at the end of the year."

Defense

The Rockets will boast one of the top outfields in the state with Jared Clarkson, a U of L commitment, along with Jordan Burk, a Georgetown College signee, and a platoon of Coty Minnis, Dwight Young, Jon Collins and Daniel Stallings.

"Our outfield is outstanding," Roettger said. "It's as good as any you'll see. These guys are just outstanding. They can cover a lot of ground, they hit their cutoffs, and they can make all the catches."

Because of the team's depth, Roettger could use several different looks in the infield. Nolan Mills has moved from catcher to third, and will likely share time with Ben Glassner. Tyler Layton will play shortstop, but because of pitching duties, Tyler Tipton will also see time at short, and Clarkson could move in from the outfield. Nick Hamblen will see much of the duty at second, but catcher Clay Minor can step in there as well.

First base will see the most turnover as Roettger is still looking at several players.

"That's our one question mark right now," he said. "Daniel Davenport, Jacob Lyvers, Jon Collins, and Eric Standafer may all see time. We've got plenty of depth at first, but nobody has really stepped up to take the position, yet."

Behind the plate, Roettger may have more depth than any team in the state. Clay Minor and Mills handled the bulk of the catching last year, but Roettger has added Jon Hunter and Matthew Purdom to that list as well.

"All these guys would probably start on any other team in the state," he said. "We've got four very good catchers, and that's why several of the guys are being looked at for other positions as well."

Pitching

Most teams in the state already know about the Rockets' top two starters in Jordan Burk and Tyler Layton. Both were standouts on the state runner-up squad last year, and they will anchor the rotation this year as well.

However, Roettger said his depth on the mound is incredible.

"We may not have a guy that can throw in the upper 90s, but we have a lot of guys that can throw strikes and get outs. With our defense, we can handle teams that just put the ball in play."

Mills, Glassner, Collins, Minnis, Standafer and Scott Clemmons have all emerged as potential starters or middle inning pitchers for the Rockets. Plus, Roettger noted the emergence of a closer this year.

"You take that group, with Tyler and Jordan as our workhorses, and then add Daniel Davenport who has come on as a closer, and you've got a very good staff," he said. "Daniel has worked as hard or harder than anybody and it's paid off. He's going to attack the strike zone and get guys out."

Offense

Last year's team lived off of defense, pitching and timely hitting, which is always a combination for success. However, Roettger said this year's squad has come alive with a potent offense.

"We're going to really rely on Jordan and Jared to be the catalyst, but we have a lot of guys that can hit," he said. "If we can continue to hit like we have in the past few scrimmages, we're going to be a very tough team to beat. We're teaching the guys to be contact hitters, and smart hitters. We have a ton of speed, and we want to use that."

In all, Roettger believes he has a team that can make noise on the statewide level, and he's put together a schedule that will allow them to prove that.

The Rockets' are ranked No. 24 in the preseason poll, but they'll face 17 ranked teams this season.

"Is it lofty expectations to get back to Applebee's (Park, site of the state tournament), I don't think so," he said. "The guys expect to get back there. We're trying to teach the guys to have that swagger that good teams have. We don't expect to win just because we step on the field, but our guys are good and they know it. We know we're not going undefeated, but our guys expect to win every time they step on the field because they play hard, and they play the right way."