May 22, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Two more New Hope High School baseball players will have opportunities to play that sport in college.
Third baseman T.J. Upton and left fielder Josh Ferguson performed well enough Tuesday at a tryout at East Mississippi Community College that coach Tony Montgomery has invited them to join the program
Ferguson, who already has signed a football scholarship to attend EMCC, will try to work with the team at least twice a week in the fall to keep his baseball skills sharp.
"We always have been interested in him, but we''ll see what happens in football," Montgomery said. "It is tough as a coach to hold a roster spot for a kid who never shows up in the fall and the other guys are doing everything we ask them to do. That''s why we try to work with football to get the players out a couple of times a week to show that they''re working at it. The bottom line is they still have to be better than anybody I have got."
Montgomery said he also will try to get Columbus High standout Billy Autrey, who also signed a football scholarship with EMCC, to work as much as he can with the baseball program.
"I think they''re the type of athletes who can make it happen," Montgomery said.
Upton will be an invited walk-on at EMCC. Montgomery said Upton''s prowess off the field has helped him earn more academic scholarship money than some players on athletic scholarship.
"Upton had a really good workout," Montgomery said. "He showed a better arm than I thought he did in the postseason. He also has some ability to play in the outfield and he swung the bat really nice. He hits the ball on the nose and can be a guy who hits the ball gap to gap."
Montgomery said neither player will be guaranteed a spot on the roster because he anticipates having more than 50 players in camp when the team comes together in August.
New Hope High coach Stacy Hester praised the contributions of Ferguson and Upton. Ferguson hit .339 for the Trojans (25-11) this season and led the team with 46 runs. He was second on the team with 12 stolen bases.
Upton hit .235 with two home runs and 20 RBIs.
"Josh is one of the most athletic kids I have had," Hester said. "He and Hilton Gibson (who signed Monday with EMCC) were super as far as leadership on and off the field. He is really focused on the field whether it is football or baseball.
"T.J. is one of those guys who can play a lot of positions. He even pitched some for us. He has potential and a little pop in his bat. He contributed so much and made some great plays on defense. I think his future is bright if he can understand the college game and get better and work hard at it. He has come a long way as a player."
The Lions will work six weeks in the fall and then will go through group workouts (four players to a coach) up until Nov. 15.
Gibson was the final district player to join the Lions.
In addition to Gibson, Autrey, Ferguson, and Upton, Montgomery will welcome baseball signees Jeremy Chambers, Zack Burk, and Alex Chick (Hernando High), Demontez Calvert (West Point), Jamie Keenan (Heidelberg Academy), Cole Vaughan (Heritage Academy), Noah Greer (Southeast Lauderdale), Kameron Heiser (West Lauderdale), and Tyler Aldridge (Caledonia).
Clark McCollum (West Lowndes), Lance Portera (Oak Hill Academy), and Steven Peebles and Andrew Graham (Quitman) are academic, invited walk-ons, or signees with other sports.
"I think we''re going to have a good group of guys," said Montgomery, who doesn''t have a junior varsity team and has to cut his roster down to 36 players. "The guys we redshirt we hope will step in the following year and play a lot."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.