UCA Bears sign nine for baseball

The University of Central Arkansas Bears recently signed nine players during the early signing period, including four in-state prospects.

The newest Bears include: pitcher Cole Johnson from Fordyce; catcher Justin McCarty of White Hall; infielder Joey Pinney from Little Rock; outfielder Wesley Hoover of Conway; outfielder Travis Able of Leawood, Kan.; outfielder Grant Maxey of Jenks, Okla.; pitcher/outfielder Riley Echols of Collierville, Tenn.; outfielder Carson Dowdle of Argyle, Texas; and catcher Charles Deckard of Blue Ridge, Texas.    

“We are very excited about the athletic ability of this signing class,” said UCA head coach Allen Gum, who led the Bears to their first Southland Conference Tournament appearance last spring. “I want to thank Coach Dallas Black, our recruiting coordinator, for all his hard work in putting this outstanding class together.”

Help on the mound should come quickly from Fordyce right-hander Johnson. “Cole Johnson is a strong, athletic kid with a power arm,’ said Gum.

“Along with a 90 (mph) fastball he does an even better job competing, and getting outs. Cole is an Arkansas kid who we think has the ability to have a very special career at Central Arkansas.”

McCarty is one of two catchers signed by the UCA staff to replace starter Travis Snider and backup this year’s expected starter Michael Mariatta.

“Justin is a big, strong, 6-foot-6 catcher,” said Gum. “He is a player who has come to our camps and we fell in love with. He is a tremendous athlete behind the plate. His ability to receive, block and throw are very special. We could see him having a big role very early.”   

Pinney comes to UCA from Central Arkansas Christian and can play either of the corner infield spots. “Joey is a big left-handed hitter from CAC and the East Coast Grays summer team. He has a special ability to change a game with one swing. Joey is one of the top hitters in the state this year because of his ability to have power to all fields. He is a special player who we see having the ability to step in immediately and have an impact.”

The home-grown Hoover returns to Conway from Northeast Texas Community College. “Wesley grew up right here in Conway and we are very excited he has chosen to come back home to finish his college career,” Gum said. “He is everything we are looking for in an offensive player. He gets on base consistently, he is very aggressive in stealing bases, he plays hard in the outfield, and he is a great teammate. We see Wesley stepping in and being an impact player.”

The second catching recruit is Deckard, who is transferring from North Central Texas Junior College. “Charles is a very good left-handed hitting catcher,” said Gum. “He is extremely quick behind the plate and throws with a great amount of accuracy. As a hitter Charles has the ability to drive the baseball to both gaps very consistently. We expect Charles to come in and have a chance to play immediately.”

After this season, the Bears will lose several talented outfielders so the newest class includes four newcomers. Able comes from Rockhurt High School and the Building Champions summer program in Kansas City. “Travis is a switch hitting outfielder who is profiled as a big-time player. He has the ability to hit, run, and play defense at a very high level. His ability right now as a player will give him a chance to step in and play.”

Maxey is an outfielder at Jenks High School. “Grant fits everything we look for our program,” said Gum. “He is a disciplined hitter who takes his walks but also is very aggressive and doesn’t miss his pitch when it shows up. He can hit to all fields with power. Grant also plays extremely hard on the bases and in the outfield. We are very excited about his future at UCA.”   

Dowdle is an outfielder who played at Liberty Christian High School. “Carson has what we call game-changing speed. He gets on base a high amount and when he does he has the special ability to steal bases and put pressure on the defense. He’s a 6.5 (60 yd) runner who can also cover a lot of ground in the outfield and keep the other team from scoring.”

Echols is a 6-3 outfielder/right-handed pitcher from Harding Academy and the Memphis Tigers summer program. “Echols brings a lot to the table. Offensively he has the ability to be a threat and drive the ball to all fields. On the mound he is a very athletic pitcher who consistently works around 90. He does an excellent job competing on both sides of the plate. With his size, frame, and athletic ability we think his ceiling is very high.  He has a chance to be a very special player for UCA.”