Category Archives: Signings

Summertown trio signs college scholarships

SM-Tn Sports

Three Summertown athletes signed national letters of intent Wednesday as the NCAA fall recruiting period officially opened.

Claire Woods, a three-sport athlete for the Lady Eagles, inked a softball scholarship with Middle Tennessee State, while multi-sport classmates Hailey Jones and Kaley Campbell signed with North Alabama and Austin Peay, respectively — Jones for softball, Campbell for golf.

Summertown’s Claire Woods signed a softball scholarship Wednesday with Middle Tennessee State. (Courtesy photo)

Woods, a pitcher/third baseman, joins the Lady Raiders as the top-ranked signee in their fall recruiting class, listed at No. 117 overall in the Extra Inning Softball top 200. She is listed as the 64th-best pitcher in the country in the Extra Elite Player Rankings, making her No. 6 among Conference USA signees and second in Tennessee.

At the time of her verbal commitment, Scout Softball had Woods ranked as the third-best uncommitted pitcher in the nation.

Through three seasons at Summertown High School, Woods has a 1.10 ERA with 307 strikeouts in 255 innings pitched. In addition to her work in the circle, Woods boasts a .459 batting average with 14 homers. She was named All-District Pitcher of the Year as a freshman and District MVP as a sophomore. Woods qualified for the Small Class State Championships in cross country and also lettered in basketball for two years.

“We think she may be the best pitcher we’ve recruited here,” MTSU coach Jeff Breeden said in announcing his recruiting class, which also includes Siegel infielder Claire Czajkowski, Macon County utility player Abby Shoulders and Anyce Harvey, an outfielder from Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.).

“She throws in the mid-60s, and she’s thought in the travel ball circles to be in the top five percent of pitchers in America. We’ll give her an opportunity, and we’ll see how far she can take us.”

Summertown’s Hailey Jones signed a softball scholarship Wednesday with North Alabama. (Courtesy photo)

Jones started as a freshman on Summertown’s 2018 Class A state title team and was a starter on the 2019 team that finished as state runner-up. She’s also been a key performer on the Lady Eagles’ consecutive Class A state championship volleyball teams, and plays basketball as well.

Campbell earned four straight individual and team region golf titles, with Summertown taking home three Small Class state titles during her tenure. She claimed the 2018 Small Class individual title, shooting a two-day 148 to win by six strokes.

Summertown’s Kaley Campbell signed a golf scholarship Wednesday with Austin Peay State University. (Courtesy photo)

On the junior golf circuit, she was the 2019 SNEDS Junior Golf Tour Player of the Year in the Girls age 16-18 category, winning five of seven tour events in which she participated that summer. 

“Kaley is a consistent player that brings a calming presence to those around her,” APSU coach Jessica Combs said. “She never stops grinding on or off the golf course, whether it’s battling an injury or needing to birdie the last hole to win. We are so excited to have her on the team, and I’m looking forward to watching her improve during her time in Clarksville.”

In addition to being a four-time All-State performer on the course, she also helped lead the Lady Eagles to the 2018 Class A softball state title and a runner-up finish in 2019. She was selected as the 2018 Middle Tennessee Class A/Division II Miss Softball by the Tennessee Softball Coaches Association, and was a member of the 2018 Class A basketball state runner-up squad. Following a knee injury that cut her junior season short, she is expected to return to the court this season.

Tears makes it official with Vols, set for national contest

By Maurice Patton

It wasn’t news that Kavares Tears signed a college baseball scholarship Wednesday with the University of Tennessee – the Columbia Academy standout announced his intentions to do so nearly three years ago – but there was news.

The left-handed Tears, who pitches and plays outfield and first base, has been selected to participate in the inaugural Minority Baseball Prospects All-American Game, which will take place Nov. 21 at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

“He’s that ‘five-tool’ guy,” said Alexander Wyche, a veteran high school baseball coach in Georgia and founder/CEO of Minority Baseball Prospects. “He shows power, with size, speed and arm strength. He can do it all.”

The MBP All-American Game will feature some of the nation’s top players from the recruiting classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023. The participants were selected based on evaluations of performances over the summer and scout recommendations.

“I didn’t know they were at any of my games,” Tears said. “This is the best summer I’ve had – ever, I think. I feel like I was more consistent. I was able to get more confident in my swing and hit for power.”

What he did is what veteran CA coach Richie Estep has always expected, and what the Tennessee coaching staff envisioned when it offered Tears a scholarship.

Kavares Tears (seated, center), flanked by parents Rodrick and Alicia, listens as Columbia Academy baseball coach Richie Estep comments on Tears signing a college baseball scholarship with the University of Tennessee during a Wednesday ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve told everybody, he’s just different,” Estep said regarding Tears, the first Southeastern Conference baseball signee in the program’s history and the first NCAA Division I signee since former standout Clint Holloway went to Tennessee Tech after beginning his collegiate career at Columbia State.

“The ball comes off his bat different. It just jumps off his bat. But he’s got so much to go with it. He’s got a great arm, he’s got great speed, he hits for average, he hits for power. No matter where he’s played, he’s shined. He plays first base for us, but I think at that level he’s going to be out there in the outfield and in the middle of the (batting) order, driving in runs. He’s a special talent.”

Tears is excited about taking that talent to Tennessee next fall and joining forces with fourth-year Volunteers coach Tony Vitello.

“They’ve made huge strides; people are seeing what he can do,” Tears said regarding the former Missouri assistant, who led UT to a 15-2 start last spring before COVID-19 forced an early end to the season. “I think that’s made a big impact with the recruits.”

With minority participation levels in Major League Baseball hovering below eight percent – MLB made sure to point out that this week’s selections of Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Devin Anderson and Seattle Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis as Rookies of the Year marked the first time two African-Americans were honored in the same year since the Mets’ Dwight Gooden and the Mariners’ Alvin Davis in 1984 – Tears is cognizant of his place in the sport.

“When you look at baseball, there aren’t too many African-Americans,” he said. “It’s mostly Caucasians, Hispanics. Bringing awareness that we can still make it, is humbling. It’s a good thing.

“When you go to a ballfield and you’re the only one there, (when) everybody’s looking at you like ‘shouldn’t you be on a basketball court?’, it motivates you to prove you belong.”

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: mopattonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.

Mitchell’s softball journey takes her to Carson-Newman

By Chris Yow

Journey Mitchell’s path to college softball wasn’t filled with accolades or much fanfare.

The senior has taken a business-like approach as both a pitcher and first baseman throughout her three-year career at Columbia Academy, and put up steady numbers to help her team to a state title in 2019.

On the first day of the NCAA fall signing period, Mitchell inked a scholarship to play at Carson-Newman University during a Wednesday ceremony held in the chapel at CA.

Mitchell was poised to be the team’s ace in the circle last season, but the reigning Class A state titlists did not get the opportunity to repeat in Division II-A due to COVID-19. CA coach Seth Anderson is looking for her to be a leader of his squad in 2021.

“Journey is one of our senior leaders, and for a kid who’s going to be a cornerstone for our team, we just want her to enjoy her senior year,” Anderson said.

Having fun is important to Mitchell, but she said it’s easier to have fun when your team is winning.

“If we all do our parts, everything comes together on its own, and that’s when it’s fun,” she said. “When you don’t have to stress over someone doing their job in the field, it’s a lot easier to have fun.”

Over two years and four games, Mitchell has been a solid option for Anderson behind now-University of North Alabama pitcher Brittany Adair. Mitchell has thrown 143 innings thus far in her career, and tallied 218 strikeouts and a 1.21 ERA.

Columbia Academy softball coach Seth Anderson talks about pitcher Journey Mitchell (seated, middle) during her scholarship signing ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at Columbia Academy. (Photo courtesy Columbia Academy)

Mitchell chose Carson-Newman — an NCAA Division II program in Jefferson City, Tenn. — over Mercer and Trevecca, due in large part to the commitment the Eagles have to their softball program.

“The softball team is treated the same as the football team there,” she said. “We share a weight room with them, and that’s not how it is in most places.”

Additionally, Mitchell said she felt at home in Jefferson City and at the small faith-based school. She committed to the school despite the possibility of larger schools coming in late with offers.

“I had never even heard of Carson-Newman, but when I went to visit, I absolutely fell in love,”she said. “It’s a cute, small town where everybody knows everybody, and everyone was very welcoming when I would go visit,”

Mitchell said she plans to study nursing, and Carson-Newman boasts a respected program academically as well. The coaching staff being open and willing to allow her to pursue a nursing degree was a large factor in her recruiting.

“Sometimes coaches won’t work around nursing programs because they are so demanding,” she said. “Coach (Michael) Graves being open to it was a big deal.”

Chris Yow is the multimedia editor for SM-Tn Sports. Reach him at sports@sm-tnsports.com or follow on Twitter @ChrisYow14.

Charger duo to part ways

By Maurice Patton

After playing together since eighth grade, Gene Holmes and Jayden Lockett are set to part ways for the 2020-21 basketball season.

Holmes committed recently to Bryan College, an NAIA program in Dayton, Tenn., while Lockett announced Saturday he will sign with NCAA Division II Benedict College in South Carolina. Lockett had previously committed to Oakwood University in Huntsville before rethinking his situation.

As sophomores, the pair helped Columbia State earn a Tennessee Community College Athletic Association tournament championship and a berth in the NJCAA nationals that were canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“A key to our team was the guys we had returning,” Chargers coach Winston Neal said. “Gene and ‘J-Lock’ led that. They won in middle school, they won in high school and they won in junior college, and there’s a reason for that: They’re winners. The way they conduct themselves, their work ethic, their high character, their toughness, their ability to do a lot of things well – we won (43) games in two years with those dudes. There’s something to that.

“They were perfect players for us, on and off the court. I was privileged to be able to coach them. We had zero issues with them, on the court, in the classroom, in life. Whatever they decide to do, they’ll be successful at it.”

Prior to their arrival at C-State, Holmes and Lockett’s East Nashville squads compiled a sparkling four-year record of 106-22.

Both are expected to step into leadership roles with their new programs, with Holmes continuing his point guard duties and Lockett likely to assume such.

“I haven’t really seen them play, but I’ve been talking to the coaches about their play style, and it really fits me,” said Holmes, who accepted a full scholarship at Bryan after entertaining offers from various NCAA Division III programs – which do not award athletic scholarships.

The only Charger to start all 33 games en route to a 23-10 finish this past season, Holmes averaged 8.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals per contest, leading the squad in the latter two categories.

“They should have a pretty good squad, but they needed an older, mature leader,” Neal said. “Gene checks that box. He fit everything they needed, and I think he found a great fit.”

Playing in a balanced attack – no C-State player averaged more than 10.5 points per game – Lockett managed 9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals despite missing four games with a broken jaw. He doubled his scoring average in the conference tournament, contributing at an 18.7-point clip over the Chargers’ three wins to earn Most Valuable Player honors.

“Oakwood was close to home,” he said of his initial decision. “My family could come see me, it’s (a Historically Black institution), they’ve got good academics. It felt like a good decision at the time. But once they weren’t offering me a full ride, I didn’t want to deal with what I would have without a full ride.

“Benedict was actually the first school to contact me and the first school to offer me. I always had my eye on them. They’re bringing me in at the ‘1’ and ‘2’. They want me to have the ball in my hands, lead the team. I’m excited to take on a bigger leadership role. I’ve played the ‘1’ before, in middle school, sometimes in high school, so it wouldn’t be anything new to me, leading the offense.”

Central’s Bailey sets grid destination

By Maurice Patton

For David Bailey, the next phase of his football career will take place in Decatur, Miss.

The reigning Region 5-5A defensive lineman of the year, who helped Columbia Central to the state playoffs last fall, committed Friday to East Central Community College.

“It’s close to home. It’s a really nice spot to be at,” said the 6-4, 270-pounder, who posted 39 total tackles (eight for loss, including two sacks) as a senior. “It feels nice to commit to a school I feel comfortable with.

“It’ll be nice to play in a stadium with the same name as me.”

The Warriors, who play at Bailey Stadium, finished 4-5 in 2019. One of their products, receiver Antonio Gibson, was selected in the third round of last month’s NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins after completing his collegiate career at Memphis.

“I spoke with one of their coaches a lot through the (recruiting) process the last couple of months – keeping him up to date, him keeping me up to date,” Columbia Central coach Jason Hoath said. “I’m just glad he’s got the opportunity to go play college ball.”

Bailey also considered Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, but felt closer – in more ways than one – to East Central, particularly in light of the recruiting restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 virus.

“I couldn’t really see the school, but East was the only school that ‘Zoomed’ me and showed interest,” Bailey said regarding ECCC, a five-hour drive from Columbia. “The rest just sent pictures.”

In March, East Central opened its new Warrior Hall football operations center. Located just outside the north end zone of Bailey Stadium, the facility contains locker rooms for players and for coaches, a team meeting room, position conference rooms, coaches’ offices, an equipment room, a players’ lounge, and a laundry room. Additionally, a state-of-the-art training room with a hydrotherapy pool for use by student-athletes in all nine of the college’s varsity sports is housed in the building.

Despite the unique recruiting limitations, Hoath is optimistic regarding Bailey’s situation.

“He’s a good fit for what they do (defensively),” the coach said. “They’re going to have a pretty solid defensive line with him in the mix. They seem to think they’ve got two or three (NCAA Division I-caliber) linemen, and they think he’ll be the fourth DI prospect. With a couple of good years of success, I think he’ll have the opportunity to continue his playing career.

“I think the Mississippi schools put a little more stock in their out-of-state commitments. They have limited scholarships (for out-of-state athletes). But I think he’ll do well down there and have a chance to go where he wants in a couple of years.”

CA’s Brown to play soccer for Anderson Univ.

By Maurice Patton

For Joshua Brown, the idea of playing men’s soccer at Anderson University wasn’t a hard sell.

The versatile Columbia Academy senior will be following in the footsteps of both his father, Jerome, and mother Janeth in attending the school just outside of Indianapolis.

Brown, who signed scholarship papers with the NCAA Division III program during an abbreviated on-campus ceremony Thursday, April 30, said he did manage an on-campus visit prior to the coronavirus pandemic that has created a global uproar.

“I went and saw it before everything shut down,” said Brown, who also considered Martin Methodist, Cumberland and Trevecca.

Flanked by parents Janeth (left) and Jerome Brown, Columbia Academy senior Joshua Brown signed a men’s soccer scholarship Thursday with Anderson (Ind.) University. (Photo by Maurice Patton)

The opportunity to get on the field at either goalkeeper – where he had played earlier in his prep career – or as a defender helped figure into Brown’s decision-making process.

“Whatever helps the team win,” he said. “I hurt my finger before our season ended and couldn’t play in goal, so I was playing defense. Whatever the team wants or needs.”

As the Bulldogs had gotten off to a 1-1-1 start before the COVID-19 virus disrupted high school sports statewide, veteran CA coach Doug Williams had taken advantage of Brown’s flexibility.

“He played in goal last year, he was going to play center (fullback) for us this year, and he had played some midfield,” Williams said.

“He has a real competitive spirit, and he’s versatile, so that makes him a great asset.”