Tate will host 7A regional championship
Tate High's baseball team has reached the Regional Final for the second straight year. They will host Ponte Vedra Nease, Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
The Aggies haven't hosted a Regional Final in 12 years, which is also when they won their seventh, and to this point last, state title. This team's chemistry has given them a chance to take their place among those previous legendary Aggie teams.
Head Coach Greg Blackmon won a state title at Tate as a player in 1986. He coached the Aggies to titles in 1998 and 2005. He likes this team's make-up.
"There's no griping and all that stuff that goes on," Blackmon explained. "They got jobs to do. They know what their jobs are and they do their jobs. The biggest thing is that they like being around each other and they play hard for each other."
They play hard and well. They are remarkably fundamentally sound.
"Throwing the ball across the plate, that's number one," said Blackmon. "And number two is playing great defense. I think we're fielding 97 percent on the season, which is absolutely outstanding. I think that's the biggest key to what we're doing."
And throughout their playoff run, the Aggies have relied on everyone. Kyler Hultgren and Logan McGuffey had the big blows against Milton in the Regional Semifinal.
It was Hunter Nesmith and Tanner Helton with the big hits against Niceville in the regional opener. Even something as seemingly simple as Blake Anderson, drawing a go-ahead walk against Pine Forest, the Aggies find a way and everybody's in on it.
"That's the way it's been the whole year," said Blackmon.
"It's somebody different that steps up and gets the two-out hit, or they hit the home run, or even drawing the bases loaded walk. Things like that. Making the great play on defense, or they come in out of the pen to get two hitters out, or whatever the thing is, it's always somebody else. And that's what I keep telling them. I say, 'Guys, at some point in this season, every one of you is going to have to do something to help us win a game.' and that's been the case," he said.
It extends to the pitching staff. Blackmon has his choice of arms for the regional final, although Gabe Castro has turned into something of a post-season sensation, after starting the year in the bullpen.
Nease comes in with an unimposing 17-11 record, but the opponent is never the focus; just the game. Handle that and these Aggies will make plans for Fort Myers.
"These kids are pretty focused," Blackmon said. "They're coming off a group from last year that really set the tone, getting back to a Regional Final. Those guys have moved on into college and been successful, there and I think they see that. They know the bar's been raised. They're just trying to maintain the status quo. If they can take it a step further, beautiful, beautiful."