Rebels look to make state title appearance with two wins over Edgewood

Published 6:44 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Chambers Academy’s baseball team is on the verge of doing something special. The Rebels are just one win away from a state title appearance with a familiar opponent standing in the way. 

Chambers Academy travels to face Edgewood Academy in the 2A AISA semifinals. The series is a best-of-three with a doubleheader on Wednesday and an if-needed game three on Thursday. 

The Rebels have leaned on younger players this season, with several sophomores and freshmen cracking the starting lineup. Relying on young players can provide some uncertainty, but the coaching staff has been far from surprised by this deep postseason run. 

Email newsletter signup

“I wouldn’t say it surprised me. We’ve got a lot of really good young baseball players,” Chambers Academy coach Dillon NeSmith said. “The key word in that is young. We kind of struggled just from an identity unit at the beginning of the year. We had a lot of guys trying to do a lot, instead of just kind of focusing and honing in on their own job. We’ve got a really talented bunch and a really hard-working group.” 

Chambers Academy’s series against Southern Academy in the last round came down to three games. The first two games were pitcher’s duels with each game being decided by one run. 

The third game was a completely different story as the Rebels erupted on offense and came away with an 11-2 win. That series taught NeSmith about his team’s willingness to fight through adversity. 

Younger teams often shy away in big moments and through adversity. The Rebels have seemingly been at their best with their backs against the wall. 

“They didn’t show a lot of emotion, which is really good,” NeSmith said. “They never got too up or too down, they kind of stayed even-keeled. I was proud of them because that was a haul. It was a little bit out of our comfort zone, having to stay overnight in a hotel in Tuscaloosa. It could have been really easy for them guys to fold up and pack it in. They came out hot and played really well.” 

The Rebels travel to Elmore to face Edgewood Academy, but the Wildcats made the trip to Chambers Academy earlier this season. Edgewood came away with a 6-4 win over the Rebels on April 8. Neither team hit well in the matchup and defense played a large role. 

NeSmith believes that the matchup in April did not show what either team is capable of at their best. The Rebels got hot after that matchup, winning six in a row, and Edgewood has put together better outings at the plate throughout most of the season. 

“They swing it really well,” NeSmith said. “Their lineup is tough. There’s not an easy out. This will be a dog fight.

“I didn’t think we played our best game against them, of course, they weren’t throwing their best guy,” NeSmith added. “Who knows how it will end up? Our guys are ready to play. They’ve been locked in.” 

The Rebels did not use the bullpen against Southern Academy as Jon Caulfield, Kyle Hand and Kole Baker each pitched complete games. NeSmith is not relying on those types of performances again, but he feels really comfortable with the team’s depth on the mound. 

Caulfield and Hand could each see innings in game one or game two. The Rebels also have Hayden Hendrix as an option to start as well as Cameron Gooden, Landon Hand and several others out of the bullpen. 

“It’s just all about who’s hot at the right time,” NeSmith said. “We’ve done a good job as coaches of not just pitching one guy. We’ve spread it around, so we’ve got fresh arms. That’s always a good thing late in the year.” 

Chambers Academy has had inconsistencies at the plate this season, but several guys have become consistent threats during the late stages of the season. Payton Yerta and Luke Tarver led the way in the final game against Southern Academy with four RBIs apiece. 

Yerta has become Chambers Academy’s boat consistent threat. He is tied for the team lead with 28 hits on the season. Yerta also posts a .301 batting average to go along with 20 RBIs and 30 runs scored. 

“He’s one of the most disciplined hitters I’ve ever coached, and he was like that last year as a freshman,” NeSmith said. “I think it’s gotten even better this year. He’s gotten stronger. He’s always been able to spray the ball all across the field, which is a huge advantage to have as a hitter.” 

This season has been special for the Rebels, but it is almost par for the course for Chambers Academy’s athletic program. The Rebels won the state championship in football this past season, with a lot of the baseball players also making up the roster. 

The baseball team winning the championship would make 2023-24 one of the more special seasons in school history, but it is more of a testament to the type of athletes that the Rebels have. 

Chambers Academy prides itself on being blue-collar. Athletic director and coach Jason Allen uses an analogy about a coach digging a hole to explain just how hard-working Chambers Academy’s athletes are. 

“A lot of kids would just stand there and watch you dig. These kids will jump in the hole and help you dig,” NeSmith said about Allen’s analogy. “These kids and the work ethic that has been instilled in these kids is unbelievable and unmatched.” 

Most of the Rebels work full-time jobs throughout the summer and never miss a workout or a practice. That’s why NeSmith believes that Chambers Academy always has an edge in the toughness department on the diamond and across all sports.