In their first season, the Tuscarawas County Rockets clinched a state berth by winning the Special Olympics Ohio Eastern Sectional Tournament on Saturday, Aug. 18.
The Rockets entered the tournament with a record of 8-2, outscoring their opponents 121 to 38.
In Saturday's opening game, the Rockets beat a tough Franklin Westerville team in extra innings by a score of 11-6. Deric Johnson led the way on the mound, striking out three and walking just one batter. He also added a home run, three singles, and two RBIs offensively. Alex Adkins recorded a triple, a double, and five RBIs for the Rockets. Steve Hazelip added one strikeout on the mound and a double, three singles and one RBI for the winners.
After only a 25-minute break, the Rockets were back at it against a strong-hitting team from Medina. After seven innings, it was the Rockets who came out on top with a score of 13 to 8, clinching the Eastern Sectional title as well as a berth to the state tournament to be held in Oregon, Ohio, on Sept. 15. Once again, Deric Johnson led the way on the mound, recording four strikeouts and walking no one. Out of 90 pitches, 29 were strikes. Offensively, Hazelip and Easton Dillon each added a double and three singles for the Rockets. Max Burnham recorded four singles and four strong innings as catcher as well.
Tuscarawas County's coach, Patrick Dillon, attributes the victory to the strong sense of teamwork and amount of effort that the Rockets displayed. He added, "I truly love coaching this group of Rockets and love watching [them] play the game the way it is supposed to be played."
During the tournament, six other Rockets participated in the Special Olympics Eastern Section Competition against athletes from Medina, Westerville, Madison, Hilliard, Columbus Public, Pickaway, and Franklin County. Chelsea Lefler clinched a gold medal for the Rockets, while Jacob Jones added a silver. Elizabeth Lippencott, Samantha Mastroine, and Shane York won bronze. Joey Fulton finished in fifth place. The Special Olympics Ohio State Skills Competition will take place concurrently with the state tournament on Sept. 15.
A pep rally and police escort are being planned for the evening of Sept. 14.