Friday, June 23, 2017

SPORTS STORYS >> Former Devil wins Gold Glove

Leader sports editor

One of the least heralded players coming out of one of the most talented Jacksonville baseball teams in recent decades, Ryan Mallison has become the most successful college player from the JHS class of 2015.

Mallison, who just completed his sophomore season as the starting second baseman at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, was just awarded the NJCAA Gold Glove for top defensive second baseman in the nation. He was also given the Gold Glove for his conference, and named to the second team Academic All American team.

But it is the national Gold Glove award that he is most proud of.

“It’s a little bit of excitement,” said Mallison. “A big part of my game is defense. I take pride in that. It’s nice to be rewarded from something I had worked so hard for a long time.”

The JHS baseball class of 2015 won 24-straight conference games over its last two years, won back-to-back conference championships, placed nine players on the All-State list, two in the All-Star game and the entire starting lineup received offers to play college baseball.

Mallison made All-State, but was not on the All-Star team, and did not receive many college offers beyond ABC.

But a look at Mallison’s season statistics makes it clear how he was chosen as the best junior college defensive second baseman in America. Mallison started all 57 games for ABC this year, and committed just two errors all season long. He finished with a .992 fielding percentage and led the nation in double plays turned with 44.

Players don’t just walk onto the field at game time and record season stats like that, and Mallison is no exception. He would stay after practice to field ground balls, and do hand-eye coordination drills whenever the opportunity arose.

He also couldn’t have done it alone.

“Some days our pitchers would stay and help out,” Mallison said. “Tirrell Brown, our assistant coach, would stay late and hit ground balls. It’s definitely something people have helped me achieve.”

Brown is also a former Jacksonville player, as is ABC head coach, who is also Ryan’s dad, Roger Mallison.

Ryan, however, says playing for his father was no different than any other coaches he played for.

“There was no extra pressure,” Ryan said. “It’s still the same game. He’s a guy who’s been pushing me my whole life. I just looked at it as him doing what he’s always done. We left the father-son relationship off the field. When we stepped on the field it was coach and player. I enjoyed it, but it was nothing different than what it’s always been.”

While defense gained him a huge national honor, Mallison was no slouch in other areas. He carried a GPA high enough to earn second team Academic All-American, and the classroom and second base were still not the only places he excelled.

He leaves Arkansas Baptist College as one of the top hitters in school history. Ryan finished his sophomore year with a team-high batting average of .410, which is the third highest in school history. His 21 doubles led the team and set an ABC single-season record. Add to that his 14 doubles from his freshman year, Ryan also holds the school’s career record in doubles.

He also had six home runs, and his 75 base hits is another school record for a single season. He’s among the leaders in several career categories, including the school record in total double plays at 68.

Ryan finishes his junior college career second in school history with 125 base hits, second in runs scored with 83, and fourth in the ABC record books in RBIs with 73.

Ryan Mallison has been offered scholarships by numerous NCAA Division II schools, but he has his eye on bigger things.

The University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship, but Arkansas State University and the University of Central Arkansas have offered him a preferred walk-on spot.

He plans on accepting one of those three offers by the end of next week.

“The (JUCO) league we played in had, I think, 17 guys drafted and more than that signed DI,” Mallison said. “It was like playing DI baseball a lot of the time. I don’t like sounding cocky. It’s just confidence, but I know I can play at that level.”