The Jacksboro Tigers cinched their first playoff spot in 13 years by winning in extra innings against Nocona last week.
The last Tigers team to make the playoffs and the current have a crucial common denominator — their coach.
Coach Blake Belcher was fresh out of college when he first took on the Tiger baseball program. He replaced his brother Scott as JHS baseball coach in taking his first coaching position.
“My brother left. He got an athletic director job in Alvord,” Belcher said. “Coach Doyle Walker hired me right out of college — 1999. I was here for three years. When coach Walker left, I left after the 2002 school year and went to Electra.”
A young coach trying to lead a spirited bunch of boys had its challenges.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with that group,” Belcher said. “They were a pretty rowdy bunch, good kids. They were six or seven years younger than me and I was coaching them. There’s a lot of things you learn your first couple of years and I went through a lot with that group.”
In 2001, the team earned Regional Semi-Finalists.
“We went to playoffs the first year my junior year. The only time Jacksboro went to playoffs Blake was coaching or his brother Scott was coaching,” said Brody Rockey, JHS All-State Shortstop 2001.
The Tigers made the playoffs for the first time in ‘98 and again in ‘99 under coach Scott Belcher and again under coach Blake Belcher in 2000 and 2001.
“We were a split team off the field but on the field we came together,” Rockey said. “As far as rowdy, everybody was more or less independent and did what they wanted to do. And we were feisty, but we paid attention to our coaches and on the field we clicked.”
“We all gave him a pretty hard time,” said Kasey Swan, 2001 JHS All-District First Baseman.
Feisty and divided led to its share of brawling, but their opponents never knew it.
“Our team was on the bus headed to the game once and four or five of us got into a confrontation to where we wanted to fight each other,” Rockey said. “But when we got there, we played and it was like nothing was wrong.”
Despite being new to coaching, Belcher earned his team’s respect and made it work.
“I think he’s just a great coach,” Rockey said. “He had the privilege of playing college baseball. And he’s great with kids and that’s how they got where they’re at. He used to be a great hitter. He played college ball at Howard-Payne and still to this day, he holds batting titles at Howard-Payne.”
Belcher, who played first base for Howard-Payne from ‘96-’98 still holds the record for most doubles, 51, and most walks, 96. He received the 1997 American Southwest Conference Player of the Year and the university won the conference title that year as well.
The HPU teams of ‘97 and ‘98 still hold the records for batting average, .349; most doubles, 132; most home runs, 59 and highest fielding percentage, .956.
Belcher returned to Jacksboro after coaching in Electra and Peaster. He is in his second season back at JHS.
To read the complete story, see the April 29 edition of the Gazette.