April 14, 2010 11:22:00 AM
HAMILTON - Tony Montgomery hoped, and then hoped some more.
The East Mississippi Community College baseball coach knows the importance of defense up the middle when you''re building a program, so the prospect of adding a speedy outfielder like Kevin McCartney to his program was exciting.
The only problem was Montgomery wasn''t sure if he would get McCartney -- until Monday.
That''s when the Hamilton High School senior signed a national letter of intent to play baseball at EMCC.
"Growing up, I always dreamed of playing college baseball," McCartney said. "I started liking football and then I came back to baseball. It is a pretty big deal."
The Lions had the chance to sign McCartney because Itawamba C.C. failed to protect him and didn''t get back involved after EMCC started to recruit him.
"I was really surprised he wasn''t held," Montgomery said. "We have seen Kevin play for a couple of years, and everyone knew he was at least going to play junior college ball. (After he didn''t get held), we started calling and talking to him, and we still didn''t think our chances were that good. We felt like Itawamba would follow up. We were glad to see he chose us. We are blessed with that."
McCartney is on a 15-game hitting streak for the Lions (13-2). He leads the team with 27 hits and a .491 batting average among regulars. He also has two home runs and 10 RBIs.
McCartney, who also played wide receiver on the Hamilton High football team, said he visited EMCC three weeks ago and felt the school was "perfect." Still, he said the decision was difficult because he will have to give up football. Throughout the search for a school, McCartney said he went back and forth between deciding on football or basketball. He said a late offer from Mississippi College stumped him for a short time, but he stuck with EMCC.
"I was about 90 percent sure I would pick baseball," McCartney said. "I was just waiting and then they called and then I thought about if for a couple of days and then I decided I wanted to go to East Mississippi.
"It was pretty stressful. I was pretty confident I was going to EMCC. I just wanted to make sure before I did the wrong thing."
Hamilton High coach Lewis Earnest said potential is a key word when talking about McCartney.
"I think he finally realized he is a pretty good baseball player," Earnest said. "I think he had some hopes for football, but he had a real good year last year, and I think that built his confidence.
"This year, he started out hot, and has been hot the whole time, and is having a great year. I think he finally realized, ''Hey, I might have an opportunity to play some baseball,'' and ''I might be a little better than I thought.'' I am glad he is getting the chance."
Earnest said McCartney has great hands, speed, a strong arm, and good hand-eye coordination. He said McCartney will get more time at EMCC to refine his skills and to realize his potential.
"He has great potential," Earnest said. "He has gotten better the last three or four years. If he continues to do that, he may have another opportunity down the road."
Montgomery agrees. He said McCartney could become the team''s starting center field next season if he does what he needs to do. He also believes McCartney will get quicker and stronger, which should help him at the plate.
"He is going to have a four-year career if he doesn''t get hurt," Montgomery said. "I really think he could be a Division I player because you can''t teach speed. I think that is where his biggest attribute is going to be."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.