The strength of high school baseball in the Shoals was evident Wednesday on the first day prep players could sign college scholarship papers.
Four area players signed Wednesday, including three players that will continue their careers in the Southeastern Conference and another who will play at North Alabama.
Mars Hill’s trio of all-state players each signed during an afternoon ceremony at the school gym. Pitcher/first baseman Thomas Burrows will play at Alabama; Pitcher Glenn Irby is headed to Mississippi State and infielder Colby Smith will play at UNA.
At Muscle Shoals, Trojans’ catcher Blake Logan signed with Auburn. Logan committed to the Tigers before his junior year and never wavered on his decision.
“I’ve always been 100 percent Auburn,” Logan said. “When I went there the first time it felt like home, and I knew it was the right place for me. I never second-guessed my decision.”
In his junior season, Logan batted .357 with four home runs and 30 RBIs. He also was the top pitcher for Muscle Shoals, recording an 8-1 record in leading the Trojans to the Class 5A playoff quarterfinals.
Logan said he understands it will take a lot of work to be successful playing in the SEC.
“Signing in the SEC has been a lifelong dream,” he said. “But I realize that the real work starts now. The SEC is the best conference in the nation, so I’ve got to work harder than ever to be ready.”
Playing as a freshmen is a goal for Logan, whose father, Joel, played football at Mississippi State. “My dad played in the SEC as a freshman, so I don’t want him to be one up on me,” Logan said with a smile. “I’ve got to continue to work on my hitting and catching, but hopefully I can get some playing time early.”
While his pitching numbers are impressive, Muscle Shoals coach David Langston said there is no doubt where Logan will play at Auburn.
“His strength is his defense as a catcher,” Langston said. “Blake handles pitchers well and has a great arm. He will continue to improve as a hitter, and he has the work ethic to succeed in the SEC.”
While Logan fell in love with Auburn, Burrows said he has always loved Alabama. “I’ve grown up as a big Alabama fan,” he said. “That’s where I wanted to play all along. I committed to them in July, and it’s a big relief to be signed and not worry about recruiting my senior year.”
Burrows was named the Class 2A Player of the Year as a junior. He batted .490 with eight home runs and 72 RBIs. As a pitcher he compiled a 9-1 record with two saves and an ERA of 0.91.
The lefty hopes to pitch and hit with the Crimson Tide.
“They told me they like the way I do both,” he said. “They are going to give me the chance to do both. I guess how successful I am will determine where I play.
“The key is going to be how much work I’m willing to put in. Every opportunity is available and it’s up to me to take advantage of it.”
For Irby, signing with Mississippi State was a family affair.
“My grandfather played football at Mississippi State, and my dad went there, too,” Irby said. “It was a dream to play in the SEC. I love the coaches and the entire program at Mississippi State. I feel like I made the best choice for me.”
Irby was named the Class 2A Pitcher of the Year after compiling a 9-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in his junior season. The left-hander recorded 99 strikeouts in 60 innings.
Signing in front of his family and friends as well as signing with his two teammates was special for Irby.
“I almost choked up trying to talk,” he said. “It was so sweet to have my two teammates there beside me.
“It’s been a great journey here at Mars Hill. This would not have been possible without my coaches and my teammates. We’ve had a lot of success and we still have a lot to prove this year moving to Class 3A.”
Smith said he is very familiar with the program at UNA. He said he has always wanted to play for the Lions.
“I’ve said from the beginning that if I got the opportunity to play at UNA it would be a great place for me,” he said. “I know Coach (Mike) Keehn well. I feel like I fit in well at UNA and that is where I need to be.”
As a junior, Smith was named all-state as a utility player. Smith plays shortstop but also set a school record for wins as he compiled a 13-1 pitching record.
While he excels on the mound, Smith said he expects to be an infielder at UNA.
“They told me I would probably play second base and might eventually move to shortstop,” Smith said. “I’ve had some arm problems, so I’m fine with not pitching in college.
“I’m just happy to sign today with my friends. It feels good to know where I’m going to spend the next four years. Now there will be no pressure on us this season.”
Mars Hill coach Jay Mitchell says his three signees have played a huge role in the success of the Panthers, who won state titles in 2010 and 2012. “It’s very rare to have three of this quality in the same class,” Mitchell said. “All three do great in the classroom and on the field.
“You could tell when these guys were in the seventh grade that they were gifted. It’s special to see them all land where they wanted to go. They’re all fine young men and we’re really proud of them.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.