BASEBALL: Six Heritage seniors sign letters of intent

Heritage baseball seniors Jon Hickman, Tripp Church, Blake Bryan, Alex Coulter, Justin Morris and Lance Dockery all signed letters of intent to play ball in college during a ceremony at the school last week. Among those on hand for the ceremony was Heritage assistant coach Jake Ledbetter, Heritage head coach Eric Beagles and Heritage assistant coach Thomas Gray. (Photo by Scott Herpst)

After senior Cole Wilcox inked a letter on intent with the University of Georgia last month, six more Heritage senior baseball players followed their teammate by signing their own college papers during a ceremony at the school this past Friday.

Jon Hickman and Alex Coulter are on their way to East Georgia State. Tripp Church will be headed to Augusta University. Blake Bryan will suit up at Carson-Newman. Justin Morris will play at West Georgia, while Lance Dockery will don the colors of Cleveland State.

“It’s just a testament to them sticking to something, continuing to work and wanting to see it through,” head coach Eric Beagles said. “There are a lot of sacrifices that have also been made by their parents to get them in front of people and get them seen and that has a lot to do with it too.”

Hickman is a solid utility player who has worked tirelessly to become a good hitter. That work paid off last year with a .368 average, seven doubles, three triples, two homers and 41 RBIs.

“I chose East Georgia because I felt it was the right fit for me,” Hickman explained. “I really like (head) Coach (Dustin) Hess and I feel like I can make an impact there in my first year. I definitely think I can bring some hitting (to the program) and the mentality to get better.”

“Jon is always one of the last ones to leave, taking extra swings in the cage,” Beagles said. “He really works at it and he’s always committed himself to doing whatever we need. It doesn’t matter the position. He’s always willing to do whatever and he can always pull it off and do it well.”

Hickman is considering majoring in Education.

Coulter, a catcher, also mentioned Hess when discussing his reasons for choosing the Bobcats.

“I really like their coach,” said Coulter, who plans on studying Human Sciences. “It’s a small school and I wanted to go to junior college. I knew I would fit in well with them. They’re graduating a couple of catchers, so I’ll have a chance to have an impact my freshman year and that’s what I hope you do.”

Coulter hit .324 this past season with five doubles, one homer and 18 RBI.

“Alex was kind of dinged up early in his career (at Heritage), but he accepted the challenges of getting bigger and stronger,” Beagles said. “He finally hit that point where he did get bigger and stronger and that’s because of his dedication to the weight room. That went on to show in his game and in his arm strength. He practices very hard, stands out and does things that really catch people’s eyes. That’s one of the things the coach at East Georgia said.”

Church won seven games with a 2.26 ERA in 43 innings as a junior and hopes to give the Jaguars another good southpaw in their rotation.

“It was just a great fit for me,” said Church, who is considering Physical Therapy as a major. “It’s beautiful down there and that added to it. Hopefully I can bring them some good left-handed pitching.”

“I saw Tripp as an eighth grader and I knew that once he put on some size he would have some potential for us,” Beagles explained. “Last year, he was as consistent as any pitcher we had and he really did well. He pitches with a lot of confidence and let the guys behind him make the plays.”

Bryan, a three-sport athlete, said he is impressed with head coach Tom Griffin and cited that as one of the reasons he chose the Eagles from Jefferson City, Tenn.

“I just sort of fell in love with it all when I took my visit and it’s a good fit for me,” said Bryan, who hit .245 with six doubles, one homer and 15 RBIs, while scoring 27 runs a season ago. “I know they need outfielders and that’s one of the reasons why I went there.”

“When Blake comes to the field, his motor is ready and I never have to worry about that,” Beagles said. “He’s very athletic and he does a lot of things for us. He’s extremely aggressive on the bases and he’s got a lot of good instincts when it comes to the game.”

Bryan said he thinking about majoring in Sports Medicine.

Signing Day was a major milestone for Morris, who has bounced back from Tommy John surgery following his freshman year.

“It’s nice not to have to worry about it anymore and I’m ready to just keep moving forward,” Morris said. “I just thought West Georgia was a good school to go to and a good place to grow as a person and a player, on and off the field. Hopefully I can bring determination, leadership and another left-handed arm to their team.”

Morris, a future Engineering major, had a win and a save and averaged more than a strikeout per inning in limited action last season, while coming up with some big hits at the plate.

“He’s a pitcher, but he’s also a position guy and he can play the outfield,” Beagles explained. “Last year he threw a lot of simulated games and gave our starters a lot of fits. We look forward to what he’ll be able to bring to the rotation (this spring).”

Dockery batted .333 out of the leadoff spot as a junior, hitting 10 doubles and a triple, while his six homers tied the program’s single-season record. He drove in 28 runs and scored 51 more.

“I like their coach and all the players that are going there right now,” Dockery said of the Cougars. “They really only have one outfielder left on the roster, so they are bringing me in to put me in the outfield.”

“He’s worked really hard at the game and his practice habits are what really caught our attention and the attention of the (college) coaches,” Beagles said. “He practices hard, runs the bases hard and he works at it. He can really use his speed to put pressure on the other teams. When he gets on base, it’s a good thing for us.”

Dockery said he is thinking about going into Management.

“The kids that we have that have signed are as good as you can find,” Beagles added. “Each year we’re looking for the right people for this program and if the baseball is there it will come out. These are great kids who’ve been raised the right way. It just happens that they all play baseball and that they all play it pretty well.”