Red Springs seniors Austin Dial, Dylan Locklear, James Jones and Payton Hunt all signed with in-state college Thursday, giving the Red Devils six baseball signees since 2009. | Brad Crawford, The Robesonian
RED SPRINGS — No wonder the Red Springs High baseball team exceeded preseason expectations this season with a second-place finish in the Three Rivers Conference.
Nearly half of the Red Devils’ starting lineup were future college baseball players.
Austin Dial, Dylan Locklear, James Jones and Payton Hunt each made their college intentions known Thursday during a special ceremony at Red Springs, a culmination of sorts for the Red Devils’ most successful campaign on the diamond in head coach Chris Howell’s four seasons.
In all, the players totaled $540,000 in scholarships and financial aid toward careers at St. Andrews and Greensboro College.
“Today is better than all the wins and all we accomplished this season,” a choked up Howell said. “It’s unexplainable. I’m just glad to have had a small part in it. The players did 99 percent of the work.”
Dial, a middle infielder and spot starter on the mound, is headed to St. Andrews along with Jones, a designated hitter. The pair are expected to compete for early playing time next spring on a Knights squad that already includes Red Springs alum Jeremy McDowell.
Locklear, the program’s lefty ace, and Hunt, the starting first baseman, will play at Greensboro College. Locklear went 6-3 this season for the Red Devils with a 1.17 ERA. He transferred from St. Pauls after his sophomore season.
“It was the best decision I ever made because I got an opportunity here,” Locklear said. “Coach Howell and all my teammates had a big impact on my life and my career and today reflects that.”
Using the special day for his four standout seniors as an example, Howell spent time at the podium calling on next year’s returning players and newcomers on the junior varsity to show what becomes of hard work on and off the field.
Red Springs has had six seniors pledge to play college baseball since 2009, second-most in the Three Rivers behind Fairmont with eight.
“We don’t control who gets scholarships, but it’s our job to sell these kids to college,” Red Springs athletic director George Coltharp said. “What they do in the classroom is quite the accomplishment. These four understood what it takes to play baseball in college.”
Dial and Locklear were instrumental to their program’s success in the early going this season, helping Red Springs off to the area’s best start with eight consecutive wins. Hunt and Jones combined for 21 RBI at the back end of the order and were two of the team’s best defensive players.
All four made Howell’s job easy at practice and led a relatively young group shake off a five-loss in six games stretch that included a pair of one-run setbacks in the Slugfest.
“The younger guys looked up to us, so it was important for us to be leaders,” Hunt said.
Added Jones: “We had to be vocal and pick our teammates up during the season.”
Howell reiterated to the large gathering in the library the importance of school first, baseball second.
“These gentlemen stayed after practice and took the necessary extra cuts in the cage to get better, but most importantly, made the grade,” he said.
As for any parting advice to returning players, Dial told teammates to steer clear of doubters.
“Those guys need to work hard and be confident in their abilities,” Dial said. “It’ll pay off in the end.”