By Chris Chaney
Halfway through the season, all any team can ask for is the privilege to determine its own fate. Clermont Northeastern’s baseball team has just about earned that privilege.
After the first go-round of Southern Buckeye Conference National Division games in the books, the Rockets were 3-2; far from ideal, yet far from dead. Head coach Mike Kirk is well aware of where his squad stands and if defending league champions Batavia can notch a win over Blanchester on Tuesday, May 7 (a game that has been postponed twice), the Rockets control their destiny. Another thing they control coming down the stretch is their effort.
“We compete every day,” Kirk said of his team. “We’re led by a really good group of three experienced seniors, led by Zane Bierman, Joey Cockerham and Chad Dorsey. The three of them are leading us in batting – Dorsey, then Cockerham and then Bierman. All have a .500 or better on-base percentage and they’re a big reason for what’s making us go.”
The three seniors are doing their jobs as producer as well as leaders. Dorsey is leading the way with a .439 batting average and 21 runs batted in, while Cockerham is batting .377 with 20 RBI and Bierman is hitting .362 with 24 knocked in.
“All three of them are getting on base and giving us opportunity to do some things,” Kirk said. “A couple of the younger guys are struggling, which is to be expected, but those three are stepping up.”
Three guys can’t lead the Rockets to a league championship and luckily for CNE, they have a good group of role players also aiding their senior trio. Heading up the support staff is Nick Tipton who is hitting .394, Jay Teaney, a junior shortstop, Brandon Mullins, Patrick Kelley and Chase Johnson.
Teaney has been big for CNE batting lead off and getting on base to start rallies. Tipton, Mullins, Kelley and Johnson are every day guys for Coach Kirk and big reason the Rockets hold a 13-5-1 record.
The one tie on the record is a rain delay that was played against Goshen on April 19 that is not being made up. Kirk said that with the teams not being divisional foes and having no real bearing on the outcome in their respective leagues, the game is going to be called a draw to avoid travel and scheduling issues.
Owning most of the 13 wins for the Rockets, a stellar staff of pitchers have been key to the success of the team. Led by familiar batting names Johnson, Cockerham, Tipton and Kelley, all four can take to the mound with confidence.
“I wouldn’t say we have a shutdown No. 1 on our staff,” Kirk said, “but any one of the five or six we run out there are capable of winning us a game.”
The Rockets are on the right path to improve on last year’s co-league championship as well as their sectional championship. At 13-5-1 and 4-2 in the league, CNE has their eyes fixed upon the upcoming run of games that will lead to their seeding in the state tournament.
Not only do the Rockets have a full plate on the diamond, but the social aspects that come with being a high school student-athlete will test the team as well.
“We talked about it a bit (last week), about the experiences that are coming up,” Kirk said. “We have prom, senior night and the sectional draw all ready to hit them in the face. We have to be prepared. We want to change the culture and how people perceive Clermont Northeastern. We don’t accept anything short of a sectional championship. This team has the ability. They’re a tough, good team with a lot of balance.”
That toughness and balance will be tested over the last two weeks of the season. The Rockets face four of their five conference opponents in the next week with three other games on the schedule to sharpen them for the sectional tournament that will begin on May 14.
Inside the league, the Rockets control their destiny. They are in the driver’s seat. But still, the league championship is something that will come with a good stretch run. CNE has bigger fish to fry. They want to create a new reputation.
One sectional championship begins that recreation.
Two sectional championships solidifies it.