Friday, May 24, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panther trio makes college baseball plans

Leader sports editor

Three Cabot baseball players made their college plans official on Thursday by signing letters of intent to continue their baseball careers. Left-handed pitcher Ryan Logan signed with the University of Central Arkansas, outfielder Casey Vaughan committed to Crowder College in Neosho, Mo., and right-handed pitcher Dustin “Chipper” Morris will attend Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

The three seniors helped lead a dramatic turnaround from last season, a season in which head coach Jay Fitch suffered his only losing season. This year, Cabot won 20 games and got back to the state tournament.

Fitch said senior leadership had a lot to do with it.

“These three guys and my other three seniors all did a great job of stepping up and assuming leadership roles for this team,” Fitch said. “They adopted that role and were really vocal and active in getting this team to buy into hard work. The first day of practice this year I ran them nearly to death, so much I really thought I might’ve overdone it. But after practice Ryan and Casey came up to me and said, ‘coach, work us even harder.’ That was the attitude they brought from day one and they stuck with it.”

Logan took a visit to UCA and was invited back to play in a Sunday league for prospective players. His play in those games prompted the coaching staff to reserve a spot for him in the roster.

What made the decision even easier is that Logan’s ACT score of 35 meant no baseball money had to be used for Logan’s roster spot.

“Those grades and good scores make a huge difference, especially for those Division I schools like UCA,” Fitch said. “They only have like 12 or 13 scholarships to fill out a 25- to 30-man roster. When it comes down to a few guys who are pretty even, and one of them isn’t going to count against your scholarship limit, that’s a huge advantage.”

UCA is also becoming a force in college baseball. The Bears were ranked in the Top 25 for three weeks this season and notched two wins against SEC teams.

Logan has been a fixture in Cabot’s pitching rotation since his sophomore year and has been the No. 1 pitcher the last two seasons. He became a hitter this year as well. Logan finished with a .340 batting average, including six doubles and 14 RBIs as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup.

“He told me at the beginning of the year that he was going to hit this season,” Fitch said. “I said OK Ryan, we’ll see. And boy did he prove himself. He was outstanding for us this year.”

Logan always felt like he was a capable batter, and excelled so much that he not only got to hit in games he pitched, he became the designated hitter in games he didn’t.

“I never like having somebody hit for me,” Logan said. “Last year in legion ball is where I got to hit and got some confidence there. I knew then I could carry into high-school season.”

On the mound Logan finished with a solid 3.78 earned run average, though he only had a 3-6 record. That was largely due to Cabot’s slow start to the season.

The Panthers lost three games in which Logan allowed three runs or fewer before the bats came alive in midseason. Logan’s performance this season earned him a first-team All-Conference selection.

Vaughan is a three-year starter who hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Cabot, Crowder and University of Arkansas player Sam Bates. He led the Panthers in home runs, triples and stolen bases and finished with a .313 average.

He also won the team’s leadership award, a second-team All-Conference selection and received and invitation to the central Arkansas All-Star game.

Morris was a prospect many programs were taking a long look at after a great junior season on the mound. But he suffered a serious elbow injury during one of his best outings of the young season.

In a one-hit shutout of Springfield-Kickapoo in the Central Arkansas Invitational, Morris suffered an avulsion on his right elbow that sidelined him for almost the entire conference season.

“Of all the times to get an injury, your senior season is the worst, especially if you’re a prospect,” Fitch said. “But he came back for us and picked right up where he left off. He didn’t get to pitch nearly as much as we planned on using him, but when he did he was outstanding.”

Morris takes the bad luck in stride and is thankful for the chance to prove himself at the Little Rock junior college.

“They’ve taken a lot of Cabot players over the years and there’s a few there now,” Morris said. “That’s a plus for me. I just have to go down there and work hard to show that I can still get to the next level.”

Morris finished with a couple of no decisions during the early-season slump. He finished with a 1-1 record and an impressive 1.50 ERA. He will also play in the Central Arkansas All-Star game.