June 18, 2010 11:44:00 AM
Brent Younger remained focused.
While longtime teammates were deciding on schools nearly every month, Younger believed that years of training and work on the baseball field would pay off.
The time Younger took to find the right fit paid dividends as the New Hope High School graduate recently earned a spot as a preferred walk-on with the University of West Alabama baseball team.
Younger made the most of a recent performance at a UWA baseball tryout to get a chance to continue his baseball career in college.
"My fielding was good and my hitting was good (at the tryout)," said Younger, who also attended tryouts at East Central Community College and Itawamba C.C. "I was just trying to find a good place to go play. West Alabama is real nice. They have great facilities. "
Younger was just one member of a talented senior class this season that helped lead New Hope (23-8) to the Class 5A, Division 2, District 1 title and the second round of the North Half State playoffs.
Younger''s ability to move from shortstop, the position he played as a junior, to third base to accommodate Philip Tice epitomized the team concept stressed by first-year coach Lee Boyd. Younger''s solid defense and steady contributions at the plate helped the Trojans make the transition appear seamless.
"Brent made great strides this season," Boyd said. "He is one of the better third basemen around."
Tice and catcher/pitcher Jake Upton signed with East Mississippi C.C. in January, while pitcher Gabe Franks also signed with EMCC in April. Pitcher/outfielder Jake Smith signed with Wallace State (Ala.) in January, and pitcher Blake Roberts signed with Shelton State (Ala.) in February.
Younger said the signings never made him feel rushed to pick a school. He said his goal was to attend several tryouts and to research schools to find the best opportunity. He said the opportunity to play at the Division II school in Livingston, Ala., and for coach Gary Rundles, who led the team to a 26-17 finish this season, is exciting.
"I felt pretty sure I was going to get to go somewhere," Younger said. "I just have to get stronger and faster. I am ready to get up there and go."
Boyd feels Younger''s versatility could help him take the next step. Boyd said Younger, who also has experience playing second base, has a strong arm and good hands, which should help him compete for playing time. UWA expects to lose at least three infielders and/or utility players from the 2010 roster.
"I think Brent will be able to play shortstop or third base," Boyd said. "I think what helps Brent is his frame. He has a lot of room to fill out and to grow. Brent is about 6-foot-1, 175 or 180 pounds. He easily could be 200 pounds if he goes in there and works hard, which I think he will. I think that is what West Alabama saw. They saw a lot of room for him to get bigger and stronger, and with that comes improvement."
Boyd said Younger hit better than .320 this season and led the team in doubles out of the No. 2 slot in the order and showed a knack for doing what the team needed in any situation.
"He was a guy I could call on to put down a bunt or hit and run," Boyd said. "He was somebody who would make contact a good bit. I think West Alabama made a good pickup."
Boyd credited all of the seniors for helping him have a successful first season. He said all of the players helped set the tone he hopes to maintain.
"I can''t ask for a better senior class," Boyd said. "I couldn''t be prouder of our guys. They worked extremely hard."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.