Battery mates have strong connection
Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer

April 13, 2004 -- Kevin Roberts and Riley Tatum have a lot in common, and there's a strong bond between the two Sulphur Springs seniors that is closer than the 60 feet, six inches that separates home plate from the pitcher's mound.

It could go back to their days in little league, but the Wildcat battery mates have always wanted to play baseball and have a bulldog mentality to go along with it.

SSHS coach Rahn Smith has said repeatedly there's no one he'd rather have on the mound in pressure situations than Roberts, who lives for the big game and wants the ball every time out, particularly against the good teams. He hasn't always had tremendous run support, yet is still tied for the team lead in wins with three.

Roberts has a team-high 39 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings but isn't satisfied with losing. He'll settle for nothing less than a win every time out. Even if he lost 3-2, it might as well have been 10-0.

"I want to be the best and know that a loss is a loss," Roberts said. "I've always cherished the role of being a leader, and I take full responsibility for what happens on the field, whether it be good or bad.

"I always want the ball with the game on the line. I live for that, and it's the best time to be in a game."

Roberts, a two-year starter on varsity, is quite a prognosticator as well, predicting a complete-game win over North Lamar on March 12 and backing it up with a masterful performance. He said a lot of his success has to be credited to Tatum.

"Riley and I have played on the same team now for the last five years or so," Roberts said. "We work well together on the field and are friends off of it."

There have been the bad times as well, such as losses to Denison and Greenville to start the district season. It hasn't been all Roberts' fault, as the Wildcats got a combined three hits in the two games, but he isn't one to place the blame on his teammates.

The Wildcat bats are starting to come around, after pounding out 11 hits in Thursday's win over Paris after having only six hits in their first four district games combined.

Roberts went 0-4 with one no-decision during district play last season but has already improved on that mark will five loop games still remaining. He said there was one key ingredient missing.

"Confidence," Roberts said. "I had none of it last year, but I have a lot of it now. I carry it with me to the mound every game, and I'm pitching to win."

While most kids want to play the glamorous positions such as pitcher and shortstop, Tatum grew up wanting to play catcher from the start.

It's one of only two positions that are guaranteed to touch the ball on every play, and it's the constant involvement that instilled his love behind the plate.

"I always wanted to be a catcher, because it's the central position on the team," Tatum said. "Not many people want to play it, because it's not easy, but I love it."

Tatum received the ultimate test during preseason, as Smith started rotating catchers. Tatum was relegated to playing every other day along with sophomore Kason Scroggins. He'll stop way short of belittling a teammate, but Tatum said fighting for his position helped him grow as a player.

"Coach wanted to see who would take over the position," Tatum said. "It pushed me to see what I was made of and to see if I could step up and be a leader on this team, get the job done and be competitive."

Tatum, a third-year varsity letterman, leads SSHS with 11 RBIs and is fourth on the team with his 13 hits. He was red hot right before district but has struggled a bit lately along with the rest of the team. He does feel Thursday's breakout performance could pay dividends for the rest of the season.

"It makes me feel good personally when I'm hitting the ball," Tatum said. "It gives me confidence in myself and makes me feel that the words I say may inspire my teammates when they look at me and know I'm doing my part as well."

Roberts and Tatum both know there is a little bit of unfinished business, as the second half of district play rolls around. Most people have written the Wildcats off, but Tatum said there's still plenty of time to improve.

"A lot of people aren't giving us a chance to do much and didn't from the start," Tatum said. "There are still teams out there to beat, and we aim to do that.

"We have to take each game one at a time and do our best. We believe that we can and will be a dominant team. We have faith in each other."

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