TROY – Four Pike Liberal Arts baseball players signed college scholarships and a fifth – Max Copeland – signed as a preferred walk-on at Troy University for football on Wednesday.
The baseball signees were Trevor Barron, who will play at Berry College; Cody Hollis, who signed with Huntingdon; Jade Sikes, who will play at Enterprise State; and Chandler Golden, who signed with Southern Union.
All five were key parts of the Patriots’ state championship run this spring. Pike defeated previously unbeaten Morgan Academy in the best-of-three title series at Riverwalk Stadium. Morgan enjoyed a run-rule victory in just three innings in Game 1 before the Patriots won Games 2 and 3. It was Pike’s second consecutive state baseball championship.
PLAS baseball coach Allen Ponder said each of the five, while very different players, share a key characteristic.
“Out of all five of them, all these schools are getting a mentally tough kid. That’s above everything else and that’s huge,” Ponder said.
With the exception of Golden, who transferred in from Rehobeth for his senior year, Ponder said the others had played together for years.
“I remember these kids when they were 14 years old and small and scrawny,” Ponder said. “Looking at them now, growing up into great young men, great athletes, I mean, it’s very rewarding. These guys, when I say close-knit group, these guys don’t go anywhere without each other.
“In every sense of the word they have been a team – with one another. When Chandler came in, you’d have thought he’s been here the entire time, also. Chandler fits in perfectly with those guys. To watch them progress and watch where they are now and see the opportunities they’ve earned, I couldn’t be prouder of a group of young men.”
Barron’s toughness was evident all year. He was wearing a sling on Wednesday. Four days after the state championship, he has left shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum he suffered back in football season.
“I wasn’t supposed to play (baseball), but I did,” said Barron, who was the Patriots’ catcher.
He hit just .267 this season, but Ponder said the injury had everything to do with that.
“What people don’t know is Trevor never took batting practice,” the coach said. “Every time he swung , Trevor was in a large amount of pain. We knew we had to have him behind the plate. He did an unbelievable job playing catcher, which he hasn’t ever played it for a full season.
“I went to him before the season and said I need you to catch for me. He said give me some gear and I’ll do it. He turned into an unbelievable catcher. The greatest thing about Trevor is the kid is tough as nails.
“ Every time he got in the batter’s box he’d bite his lip and swing the bat. Now that he’s getting his shoulder fixed, everybody’s going to see what kind of hitter Trevor really is. I want people to understand what he went through this season. He’s a really good hitter playing with a bad, bad injury. Very proud of what he did for us this year.”
Hollis developed into “an unbelievable” center fielder, Ponder said.
“He’s got unreal baseball instincts. Runs the bases extremely well, handles the bat well, he’s a prototypical leadoff hitter,” the coach said. “In the outfield he’s going to give up his body. He’s a very hard-nosed baseball player.”
Hollis said he chose Huntingdon and coach D.J. Conville because the school will be a good fit for him. The outfielder said the Patriots lost their focus during a losing skid in the middle of the season.
“We thought we were unbeatable,” said Hollis, who hit .400 and scored a team-high 43 runs. “We got down on ourselves, but regained our confidence after that Macon-East series and went out with a bang.”
Sikes may be a dual-way player at Enterprise State as a pitcher and a position player.
“Jade didn’t throw a lot of innings for us this year, but you put him on the mound and he’ll be 89-91 (mph) with a great curveball,” Ponder said. “It was just hard to take him off shortstop. He’s that valuable to us in the infield. I think Enterprise got a steal. He flew under the radar this season.”
ESCC coach Bubba Frichter praised Sikes’ athleticism and leadership skills.
“Jade is a heck of an athlete and a great leader. I think the upside with him is tremendous,” Frichter said. “He’ll come in and fight for a role on the mound, as well as a corner infield and may even see some time in the outfield, too. That’s all a tribute to his athletic ability.”
Sikes said he wants to make an impact quickly at ESCC.
“I’m hoping I can get some early playing time there,” he said.
Sikes said he remembers the feeling of pulling away from Morgan Academy in the seventh inning of Game 3.
“We were joking about it in the seventh when it looked like we had it sealed,” he said. “It actually felt like a dream that we came this far to beat the team we did in the fashion we did. We had nothing left to give. We left everything at Riverwalk. That’s all I could ask for.”
Golden, who may also be a dual-threat player as a pitcher and infielder, said he loved his visit and tryout at Southern Union.
“The atmosphere was unreal,” Golden said. “The field and everything, it actually took my breath when we showed up.”
Ponder said Golden is a bulldog, which is why he fit in so well on this team.
“Chandler was a one-year guy for us, but we knew exactly what Chandler brought to the table,” the coach said. “He’s great on the mound, he plays a very good defensive third base, swings the bat extremely well. He’s fast, got a lot of tools. Southern-Union is getting a great player. He’s a very mentally tough kid.”
Copeland will play college football at Troy, but Ponder said he plays baseball the same way he plays football.
“He battles through adversity,” Ponder said. “He’s one of these kids that doesn’t let anything get him down. He’s an unbelievable leader. When he gets to Troy, he’s going to work. Max is going in undersized, but he will work and he will find a way on that football field. They’re getting a great one.”
Copeland said he will report to Troy on June 3. He is targeted to play inside linebacker, although that may change. He also said Wednesday was special for him and his teammates.
“The guys at that table are my best friends. They’re the guys that are going to be in my wedding. They’re the guys I’m gonna call in 10 years when I need something,” Copeland said. “So it’s cool to go out like this together. I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group.
“We played a team in the state championship that might have had better players. Those guys are going SEC and our guys are going JUCO, but we had something that recruiting rankings and draft stock doesn’t really show. We had a lot of heart and we’re a family.”