Two White Hall state championship baseball players signed with NCAA Division I teams on Wednesday and Fordyce is sending a player to Conway.
White Hall catcher Justin McCarty and Fordyce pitcher Cole Johnson signed with the Central Arkansas baseball team on the first day of the fall signing period, and White Hall pitcher Tyler Zuber inked with Arkansas State.
McCarty is joining a UCA team that already has a good presence from White Hall with outfielder Ethan Harris and pitcher Zach Barr.
“It’s a great opportunity and I know a bunch of guys that go up there and I am excited to go up there and continue playing,” said McCarty, who batted .350 this past season. “Zach’s like a big brother to me and I am glad to go up there and get another chance to play with him.”
Other local players at UCA include Rison’s Will Jacobs (pitcher) and Monticello’s Kameron Smith (catcher), who are both freshmen.
Johnson is coming off a broken right wrist this past season, but he still showed enough to UCA coach Allen Gum. Johnson went 4-0 with 42 strikeouts in 21 innings.
Johnson said he has been working for this opportunity all of his life.
“I’ve been going to a lot of showcases since my ninth grade year and I got some interest,” he said. “It’s just a big blessing and I worked hard for it.”
Zuber was All-State selection this past year. White Hall coach Skip Carr chose him to start the Class 5A championship game.
Zuber said it felt good to put pen to paper and sign with Arkansas State.
“It’s a big relief that I got it off my chest and I can focus on playing baseball this year,” he said. “I felt at home up there and I felt a connection up there as a program.”
Pine Bluff High graduate Claude Johnson and Watson Chapel alumnus Collin Massanelli play for the Red Wolves, along with Woodlawn’s Bradley Wallace. Zuber said having some familiar faces also helped make Jonesboro feel like home.
But before Zuber and McCarty head off to college, they still have another year under Carr, who said the two are key pieces in a chance for back-to-back championships.
“They set examples last year and the seniors were following them last year, so I am not expecting anything different,” he said. “I am glad to be able to coach them and both of them deserve it.”
Johnson had interest from Arkansas State, Harding and Southern Arkansas along with UCA. When it came down to making a decision, Johnson said it came down to Gum’s staff.
“Went there several times and looked at the campus and met with the coaching staff and took everything in consideration and decided it was the best place,” said Johnson, who is going to major in pre-med. “It really came down to the coaching staff. I was really impressed and that’s what it came down to.”
McCarty had interest from Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Harding. UCA made the Southland Conference tournament for the first time this past year and McCarty feels Gum has the Bears going in the right direction.
“I talked to some smaller colleges but nothing compared to UCA, so it was an easy decision,” he said. “The coach has got them going in a good direction and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Carr said with McCarty’s work ethic, UCA is getting a good player.
“Defensively, he is pretty sound,” he said. “With his size and as hard as he works, his arm and bat, I figured someone would get a good steal there.”
Zuber is bringing five pitches with him to Jonesboro — a 4- and 2-seam fastball, a curveball, changeup and a slider, which he just started throwing. He has also added 6 to 7 pounds of muscle.
Zuber said Arkansas State coach Tommy Raffo told him he will get some innings in the fall and spring.
“That’s the plan and hopefully I wind up getting some weekend innings after that,” he said. “I think they are going to be just as good this year, if not better.”
The Red Wolves finished 34-23 and 19-9 in the Sun Belt.
“Arkansas State is a good fit for him,” Carr said. “He likes the coaches and the atmosphere there is good fit for him.”