Tuesday, July 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Hart signs to become ABC Buffalo

Leader sportswriter

Former Carlisle Bison baseball standout Chris Hart will continue his playing career at the next level as he signed a National Letter of Intent on Monday to play baseball for Arkansas Baptist College.

Hart, a three-time All-State selection in the sport, liked the pitch from the junior college Buffaloes program as he’s going to have the opportunity to play right away.

“I just think if I go to a junior college I can get bigger and stronger,” Hart said after the signing. “Coach (Zach) Bottoms told me that I could come in and pretty much be the shortstop right away.

“They said they were going to move their shortstop to third and the third baseman to first. Playing time right away is a big deal to me just because I don’t like sitting on the bench.”

Sitting on the bench is something Hart doesn’t have much experience with. He’s been a starter since his freshman year. Most of those starts have been at shortstop, but he’s also been a key contributor to the Bison starting pitching rotation as well.

Even though Hart has experienced both individual and team success throughout his high school playing days, he said there were a few growing pains along the way.

“Coach (B.J.) Greene probably had the biggest influence on me,” Hart said. “He came in my ninth grade year. I had a pretty hot attitude, and he threatened me, saying if I got another attitude with the team I’d get kicked off.

“That was my 10th grade year, and after that I just started playing the game instead of worrying about all the other stuff.”

B.J. Greene was the Bison baseball coach in Hart’s ninth through 11th grade years, but last summer Greene took the head-coaching job at Heber Springs.

Former Bison basketball coach William Rountree was an assistant baseball coach during Greene’s tenure and after Greene’s departure, Rountree took over head coaching duties for the Bison baseball program as well.

Monday’s signing was extra special for Rountree, who is Hart’s stepfather.

“I’m really proud of all the people in town who came for the signing,” Rountree said. “Christopher is very, very talented. He’s a three-sport athlete and the thing about Chris was that he was good in all the games.

“In all the sports he was a lead player. He’s always been good. He started as a very young kid playing with older kids and that probably helped his progress. But I’ve always felt like, especially in these later years, that if you looked past high school, that baseball was the best of his three opportunities. I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished.”

Hart’s other athletic accolades came on the football field and basketball court. He was a two-time All-Conference selection in each sport.

He was an All-Conference cornerback on the 2011 Class 2A state runner-up football team and also started at quarterback for this year’s Bison team that won its third-straight 2A-6 Conference Championship.

In basketball, Hart earned his postseason honors from his point guard position his junior and senior year. He led the team in assists from his sophomore year on and was second on the team in scoring his senior year.

Hart earned All-State honors in baseball for the first time his sophomore season, but it wasn’t until last year that the Bison made their name well known on the diamond.

Carlisle advanced all the way to the Class 2A state baseball championship game last year, but fell to traditional Class 2A baseball powerhouse Woodlawn in the title game.

The Bison made it back to the state tournament this year with Hart batting at the two spot as opposed to his usual leadoff position. He was the lone starting senior on this year’s team and his near .450 batting average was a team-high.

“He was a very good senior leader,” Rountree said of Hart. “Whether it was field maintenance or situational things we talked about, it was like having another coach on the field. Honestly, it was a very easy situation for me because Chris is such a good player that knows the game so well.”

Arkansas Baptist pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Bottoms was present for the ceremony. According to him, he had been targeting Hart since his junior year and was even more impressed at the Xtra Innings Summer Classic, which showcases underclassmen Arkansas baseball players to college coaches and professional scouts.

“We started recruiting Chris at the end of his junior year,” Bottoms said. “We saw him again at Xtra Innings and he really showed up at Xtra Innings. Since then it’s been a process to get him on board at Baptist.

“We really liked his athleticism and leadership, being a three-sport guy. We think he’s just going to be a baseball player. He’s really a superb athlete that we want to focus more on just baseball because we’ve had a lot of success with those guys.”

Hart would ultimately like to play baseball at the Division I level and he believes playing for Arkansas Baptist College is a great opportunity for him to do that.

But for now, Hart says he just wants to get out there and play and see what happens, and is humbled to sign a college scholarship in front of his friends, family, former teammates and coaches.

“It feels good because these are the people that have helped me achieve the goals I’ve achieved,” Hart said. “And just to be able to sign a scholarship feels pretty good.”