MONTICELLO — The thought of pitching a state semifinal game as a freshman didn’t faze Fordyce’s Ross Rogers at all.
“The year before, we won state in some other stuff (like travel ball), so I’d been there before,” he said. “It’s not quite as big as it was, and I just knew to keep calm and do the best that I can. And if I do my best, I know we can win.”
So, Rogers was called to the mound in the top of the sixth, with Mayflower just tying the game at 4 with three runs. Rogers kept the Eagles off the board and struck out four while allowing one walk and four hits.
But it’s not one performance that earned the freshman The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Pitcher of the Year honor. It was his (really) eye-popping numbers:
• a 0.56 earned run average;
• a 7-0 record;
• a 0.83 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) average;
• and only four earned runs allowed all season.
“Over the years, he’s probably pitched 20 or 30 games a year (at other levels),” Fordyce coach Tim Rodgers — no relation — said. “So, that’s just built up to where it’s helped out. Now that he’s in high school, I guess it’s coming out to where everyone is seeing it a lot more.”
Rogers’ talents were no more importantly visible than in that state semifinal against Mayflower. The young man, who did not allow a run in his first three ballgames, was going to give his Redbugs a chance in a clutch situation with a trip to the championship on the line.
Fordyce lost to Harding Academy 14-3 six days later in the 3A state final in Fayetteville, but Rogers’ expectations for the season had already been surpassed. Fordyce finished 26-3 with conference, district and regional championships in tow.
“I didn’t think we would make it as far as we did, for sure,” he said. “I knew we were going to have a pretty good season, because all of us played together for a long time, but I didn’t think it’d be near as good as it was.”
It certainly wasn’t going to be bad with Rogers leading the way on a stellar pitching staff that included Central Arkansas-bound Cole Johnson (8-1, 1.63 ERA) and rising junior Braden Chambers (8-0, 1.14).
“That’s one of the things that got us to where we were this year,” Rodgers said. “Him and a couple other pitchers, that was our whole season, defense and pitching. The one time it didn’t work for us, was the finals. Other than that, in the 26 games and the two games we lost, we only gave up four runs, and that’s what got us where we’re at.”
Rogers wasn’t bad on offense, either. He drove in 34 runs and batted .303, the third-highest average on the Redbugs.
Many will wonder how a sub-1.00 ERA was even achievable, especially for a freshman, but Rodgers kept referring back to Rogers’ baseball experience to give an idea.
“Tom Tidwell does a good job with him in the summer as far as travel ball,” Rodgers said. “Coach (Mitchell) Musgrove works with him, but he’s been pitching since he’s 6 years old. He knows the game, he knows how to pitch, he pays attention and he’s very coachable, and it shows on the mound because he doesn’t get frustrated, he doesn’t let things affect him. He throws one pitch, goes on and throws another pitch.”
Even with an unbelievable statistical year, Rogers has set higher — or should we say, lower? — goals for next season.
“Make (the stats) better. Make the ERAs lower,” Rogers said.