By TREY WILLIAMS
When word began to spread during the season that Daniel Boone veteran baseball coach Rob Hoover would resign at season’s end to enter the ministry, you wanted to believe fate would save his best for last.
Alas, Hoover’s snake-bitten Trailblazers program couldn’t get over the hump, but he exited on top of the world.
The ‘Blazers suffered yet another gut-wrenching loss to Science Hill in the district tournament. Boone led 4-1 in the winners’ bracket semifinals, and a victory would’ve secured a regional berth. But Science Hill rallied to win 5-4 in 10 innings.
“I think there was five years in a row that we were in that same game that we fell short,” Hoover said. “For me, as a Christian – it is easy to get frustrated and ask why – I think it speaks to us as to how we react to those times that are difficult and those times that are frustrating. And I think that’s gonna develop you more than if you constantly win and win and win, and you don’t know what it is to fail. …
“Throughout this life, when you hit a rough patch you better know how to handle adversity. I’m thankful for those losses. As tough as they were, they help strengthen you and they help harden you a little bit. And I was able to help get through things in my personal life that I may not have been able to get through otherwise had it not been for those disappointments and knowing I could get back up from those disappointments.”
Of course, having won 258 games while head coach for 14 seasons, Hoover had his share of success. Maybe the most exciting win was an extra-inning triumph against Daniel Norris, Will Craig and Science Hill at TVA Credit Union Ballpark when Boone had Kevin Connell (The Citadel).
“I think Daniel Norris was a senior and Kevin Connell was a senior,” Hoover said, “and they had a game where it went to the seventh. Matt Pope, the big, hard-throwing right-hander, comes in and Kevin hits a grand slam opposite field to put it into extra innings and we ended up getting another run somehow. And then I think we had two outs and Daniel Norris was up and he hit one – I think center field is 400 and he hit one 399 to the base of the wall, and Travis Keever catches it for the third out. …
“That was one of the greatest wins we’ve had, because we’d had a hard time knocking off Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill up until that game. I think that game kind of propelled us and gave us some confidence in knowing we could. That game went back and forth and, you know, Kevin’s grand slam to put it into extra innings was just unbelievable.”
Hoover’s final Boone team defeated D-B, Tennessee High and Science Hill. Tennessee commitment Cade Elliott, a junior, shut out Science Hill, 5-0, at Clarence Mabe Field.
“We played so well and pitched so well,” Hoover said. “That ranks up there just about as good as any of ‘em.”
Hoover fondly recalled pitcher Daniel Cox imploring his teammates in a postseason game.
“Daniel was a sophomore and we were playing Sullivan South in the district tournament at Tennessee High,” Hoover said. “It was the Monday night elimination game and it was an even game and no team could score. And as a sophomore, he came in the dugout in the fifth inning – he was throwing it incredible, and he told the team, he screamed at the team, ‘If you’ll just give me one run this game’s over!’
“And we did. We got one run and ended up beating ‘em. I thought right then for a sophomore to say that and to do that, I knew we had something special.”
Hoover was a special mentor to countless teens – and adults, for that matter. Numerous area coaches have offered unsolicited praise through the years.
“Coach Hoover is a first-class coach that I consider a good friend and I have truly enjoyed competing against him,” Science Hill coach Ryan Edwards said. “We both have a lot of respect for each other. We have had some battles, no doubt – regular season, postseason, you name it.
“His teams are always ready to compete. He has been a model coach to me and many others in the area of how you bring honor to God on the field. I totally respect a guy who has a desire to follow the path the Lord leads, and he will be missed as an ambassador coach for our league and area.”
Hoover wanted to be a coach since watching his father, Dave, coach Dobyns-Bennett (1978-85).
“To be honest, he got out of that to help coach my brother and I,” Hoover said. “He coached us all the way up through what are the ages of travel ball now. He brought us up to the point of high school. I was fortunate enough to coach again with him at Boone at one point. He was probably the most instrumental in just kind of showing us what that life was like, and the hard work it takes and what all you need to know and learn.”
Hoover also credited Todd Raleigh, who he played for at Western Carolina, as well as Sullivan South coach Anthony Richardson and Daniel Boone football/softball coach Jeremy Jenkins.
“Todd Raleigh was that person for me that kind of drove me and motivated me, and he was the guy that you never wanted to disappoint,” Hoover said. “I took a lot of my philosophy and coaching style from him. … And I wouldn’t be where I was without Anthony giving me a chance at South. And Jeremy, of course, I was able to come from South to Boone with him when he got the football job back in ’04. He was nice enough to bring me over with his father Jerry. The Jenkins family has been incredible to me.”
Mostly, Hoover said, he appreciated those who played for him. He’ll miss the offseason workouts and practices perhaps more than games.
“Those are the times that you spend just talking about general life and school and their friends and family,” he said. “That offseason time where you’re together all the time just working out in a non-competitive environment, that’s what you miss – just talking to ‘em and being friends with the kids. You’re not gonna find anything else that kind of matches that, because sports, in that aspect, is kind of different than any other relationships that you could have, because you spend so much time together and you’re all fighting for the same cause – one that really matters.”
Hoover is sleeping well knowing he treated his players the way he’d want his daughter to be treated.
“Although I wanted our kids to win and experience and I wanted our program to win and go to a regional, it just wasn’t in it,” Hoover said. “So what do I do as a coach. You’ve gotta make a point and you’ve gotta teach them somehow to get through those tough times.
“Our guys, when they look back, they’re gonna say, ‘What if.’ And I think we did have some teams that were good enough to go. I think this year’s team was good enough to go. But at the same time, when something negative happens, they can look back and they can just take something from that. They might remember something that might help ‘em. And that’s good enough for me.”
Daniel Boone Softball
Daniel Boone’s softball team won the district title with a 9-2 victory over Science Hill in the championship. Tournament MVP Jaycie Jenkins hit a grand slam and finished with five RBIs.
Jenkins tied the score, 2-2, with an RBI single in the fourth. Her grand slam came in the bottom of the sixth. Boone had entered the frame with the score tied.
The red-hot Jenkins finished the tournament 7-for-11 with four runs and 15 RBIs. Nickolette Ferguson pitched a five-hitter in the championship, striking out eight.
The ‘Blazers (44-6) had put Science Hill in the losers’ bracket with a 4-1 victory. The score was tied, 1-1, in the fifth when Jenkins delivered a three-run double. She’d homered in the first inning.
Megan Ackerman pitched a four-hitter for the victory, allowing one unearned run while walking none and striking out four.
The ‘Blazers were scheduled to play Jefferson County in the regional semifinals Tuesday. A win would secure a sectional berth and a spot in the Region 1-AAA championship Wednesday at Morristown East.