By: John Gilreath - July 31, 2017
When you first step on that high school campus, you've got two things on your mind - academics and winning a state championship. Those should be the only two things that matter to a high school baseball player from the time they get into the junior varsity program all the way up until their senior year.
Luckily, our 2017 varsity baseball team went the distance and captured our first baseball title in school history.
As most high schools in the state do, we started prepping for our season in the fall with our long toss programs and band workouts to get ready. From the first day of those mini-practice sessions, we all had our mind focused on that state title. It would be mentioned multiple times on a daily basis and the thought of a championship stuck in our heads for every workout and team activity all year long.
The team would go eat together, play disc golf or hang out at each other's houses throughout the fall and pre-season and especially during the season as it strengthens our bond as teammates. After it came out that we were pre-season #1, Coach Walters and the rest of the coaching staff always would say, "You were only given that ranking but you haven't earned anything yet. You must prove it." We all remembered that for every rep in the weight room, every foul pole we ran, and every time we went to study for school knowing we wouldn't get a chance to play if we didn't succeed in the classroom.
No matter what anybody tells you, you cannot have a winning team if you have no leadership or team chemistry. It is not possible. If you look at Clemson or South Carolina or any of the top programs in the country, they all have each other's back and push each other. That's what you have to do to be successful.
So, when the first day of the season came, we knew that with the work we put in the weight room and in the classroom, and the relationships we had with each other, we had a good shot at this thing. We were blessed with depth offensively and on the mound this year; probably deeper than most programs and for that we were grateful.
I had the opportunity to pitch alongside some of the best in the state like Rob Hughes, Cameron Reeves, and Wesley Sweatt but all 4 of us knew that without our defense behind us, the ground balls wouldn't have been fielded and those fly balls wouldn't have been caught.
The pitching was the pre-season hype but the thing that should have gotten the most press was that our senior class was the most leadership-oriented, unselfish group of guys I've ever been around, and for that, we are also grateful.
Will Gardiner would scream and yell at you if you were standing around, Brandon Ashley would run extra with guys when he didn't have to. Stuff like that sets an example for not only me, but also the younger guys watching.
Coach Walters threw batting practice and hit ground balls with an injured back and never complained once and honestly for me, that showed that you can either sit on your tail and do nothing or you can battle through the tough times no matter what and see results.
Building off of that, our coaching staff worked tirelessly to get the best out of us not only on the field and in the weight room, but also in the classroom. They also had probably some of the best baseball strategy plans and baseball minds in the league. Without them, the playoffs and our season would have been a disaster.
It seems like all of Rock Hill showed up and showed out for every game and especially in the State Championship Series and that was crucial for our success. We weren't nervous going into the series, we were just ready to get out there and show the state what we could do on such a big stage.
Hats off to River Bluff for such a great season. If you want to know, though, what it's like running out to the mound in front of a few thousand in the championship game, it's a World Series Game 7 type of feeling.
The atmosphere was like no other I've ever experienced. Fans lined the foul lines, were in the outfield and there wasn't a seat in the house which made it even better. In those types of games, the key to winning is to play it just like any other game. If you go out there and try and be something you're not, you're going to lose, plain and simple. If you go out there and play like the 25 other games you've played that season, you'll be just fine.
Another key is to ignore the hype and focus on the task at hand. Stay calm and never look at the scoreboard. We owe one back to the city of Rock Hill and couldn't thank them enough for the support they've shown us this year. Also, a huge thanks to Trojan Nation, our administrations teachers and staff, and student body for all of the support they've shown us. We couldn't have done it without you. Once again, hats off to River Bluff on such a tremendous run.
About the Author: Northwestern 2018 grad and committed Gamecock LHP John Gilreath took the time for DP to jot down his candid thoughts on a wire-to-wire run for the 2017 Trojans. We thank the southpaw for giving a glimpse into the program that raised the trophy this spring and are the odds-on favorite to do it again in 2018.