South Arkansas Community College’s baseball team saw a few members move on to four-year schools after the Stars’ debut season.
Now three more will be getting that chance following the 2023 season.
Pitchers Kade Lively and Aaron Warriner recently signed with Arkansas Tech while infielder Clay Burrows signed with Southern Arkansas.
Lively, who enters the season as the anchor of the Stars’ rotation, ranked second on the team in wins and innings pitched last year.
“Arkansas Tech liked Kade since last year,” SouthArk baseball coach Cannon Lester said. “They asked a lot about him last year when they saw him. They probably knew he wasn’t the guy that he is now, but they liked the way that he worked and the way he about his business.
“We’ve had nothing but great things to say about Kade. He’s worked hard ever since he’s been here. They saw him again this fall. I think it was our first fall game, and Kade started for us and he threw well against them. That was kind of the icing on the cake for him.”
Warriner was the Stars’ workhorse out of the bullpen last year with 23 appearances to lead the team along with working 48 1/3 innings.
“He was probably our best arm last year,” Lester said. “He had our best numbers and he was our No. 1 reliever out of the pen. He threw against them and I think he got up to 89 (miles per hour). He throws a lot of pitches for strikes in high-leverage counts.”
Although the Stars are beginning only their second season, Arkansas Tech has become a frequent landing spot for players with Tex Cook arriving after his freshman year at SouthArk.
“I was really candid with coach (Michael) Milum about what he’s getting with Kade and Aaron,” Lester said. “I think you’re talking about two of our top four or five arms on the team. They’re just really consistent.
“They might not have the best stuff on our team, but they’re going to be the most consistent. Kade is going to throw Game 1 for us. He was our MVP in the fall and Aaron was probably our MVP in the spring pitching-wise.
“Two guys that are really consistent that go about their business. They’re two totally different guys. Kade is pretty quiet and Aaron can get pretty loud, but both are competitors on the mound. They both throw a lot of strikes and a lot of different pitches for strikes. I think that’s what they really liked.”
Burrows stepped right in at shortstop and hit .312 with 19 RBIs as a freshman. Burrows led the team in steals with 13 and he also had no trouble putting the ball in play by having the fewest strikeouts on the team with just 19 in 202 at-bats.
“Clay started at shortstop for us last year and had a solid year, but we told him that he had to transform his body and slug the ball a little bit more and hit with a little more power if he wanted to go play at a high level, and he did exactly that,” Lester said. “Clay is kind of our team leader. We don’t have a captain, but I think he would be, especially for our position players.
“He kind of runs the ship. He went home and put on about 15, 20 pounds and the bat speed went way up. He drove some balls last fall. He’s going to play a really good shortstop. I don’t know if it will be at short or second at the next level, but they really liked that he’s a good-defending middle infielder that is a left-handed hitter. He’s a coach’s kid, he’s a captain out there and they were excited to get him.”
Burrows heading to SAU is more personal for Lester, who is a member of SAU’s Hall of Fame.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t mean something,” Lester said. “I have really enjoyed coaching Clay and looking forward to this spring. He’s been really fun to coach. He’s one of those that you don’t forget coaching just because of the way he goes about his business and the deep conversations that you have. I think Kade would be that way with coach (Hayden) Dow, our pitching coach. They’re really close.
“Obviously, SAU went to the World Series last year. They’ve always been close with some really good teams, but they finally got over the hump last year. To know Clay is going over there with those guys, and I’ve coached with a lot of those guys, played with them and some of them coached me, so knowing those guys are over there and knowing who he’s going to, it’s definitely special.”
And while Lester is certainly happy to see three more players move on to four-year-schools, there is plenty of work ahead to find homes for his remaining sophomores.
“Our plan is for those sophomores to get them all somewhere,” Lester said. “I think we have about 18 sophomores that are going to be looking for four-years after this. I think if you exclude those three that have already signed, I think we’ve had four or five already get offers for places in the fall, so they’ll have that chance. The other six or seven, I think they’re just starting to come into their own a little bit.
“People haven’t seen what they can do yet, so once they get a good year under their belt, especially after a lot of those guys getting a lot of chances last year. We’ve also got some redshirt freshmen that are probably going to move on after this year, so we’ve got a lot there that need to find a home. Obviously for us, the sooner the better, but with that being said, a lot of places realize after the first month that they thought they had something and they don’t, so they go looking a lot more. I think with some of the guys and the way I think our success is going to be this year, hopefully all of those guys are going to have a chance to go play somewhere.”
With the Stars set to begin to their second season, Lester credited the trio for helping get the program on the map and how they’ve helped shape it in just a short time.
“These guys have molded our program,” Lester said. “They took a chance coming here. Kade came in late, came to one of our tryouts from a little 1A school in Louisiana. Now him and Josh Uchtmann are hallmarks in our program. I think Aaron was the first guy I think I offered. He pitched against us, Shadarious Plummer actually hit a home run against him. He pitched against us right after I got offered the job here. I talked to him during the JV game and asked him if he wanted to come and play for us. Clay’s story is really cool too because his dad is a really good high school coach and I’ve known him for a long time.
“I thought Clay was going to come and pitch for us, but little did I know that he might be the best defensive shortstop in our league. It’s kind of funny how you see guys working out, then they come in and it’s even better than you thought. I think that was definitely the case with those three guys. I think we’ll forever probably tell those stories about Clay, Kade and Aaron and how they started this thing and how it’s headed in a good direction because of them.”