Editor's Note: This version corrects an earlier misspelling of Tommy Jester's last name.
Three members of the Watson Chapel Wildcats baseball team took part in the early signing period by inking their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday.
The three Wildcats that signed were Kaleb Hill, Gianti Turner and Garrett Dennis. Watson Chapel Head Coach Chad Cope has had each of these guys since they were ninth graders, so he’s seen them grow into what they are today.
Dennis signed with Connors State University in Warner, Oklahoma, Hill signed with Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, and Turner signed with Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
This past summer, Dennis received an offer from Connors as he was on a visit. Dennis’ father played at Connors, so it was a place they were familiar with. Hill verbally committed to Ole Miss in September 2016, and he hasn’t wavered since. Turner had a stellar junior season, and as a result the offers began to roll in.
On June 21, Three Rivers made an offer to Turner, and he has been their priority ever since. Cope has been in contact with all three of his players’ future coaches, and from what he gathers each of them could be looking at playing time right away.
“I’ve had them since ninth grade and they’re three kids who have bought in to what we do around here which is hard work, discipline and doing things the right way,” Cope said.
“As you can see here all three of them are going to play at successful colleges. I’ve talked to the coaches that they’re going to play for, and they seem to be thinking they need to step in right away and help out. It’s fun to coach these guys who want to show up every day and work hard. These guys have played since they were ninth graders so there’s not pretty much that’s going to shock them.”
Dennis transferred over from White Hall, and he felt that Watson Chapel was the best place for him to improve his game. Connors has always been a place of interest for Dennis. Connors State Head Coach Perry Keith has held the position for 31 years. Keith coached Dennis’ dad, so the connection was there from the start.
“I came here to play baseball and get better,” Dennis said. “Now that it’s my senior year I feel like my goal has been accomplished. I’ve known coach Perry Keith at Connors for a while. He talked to me and really wanted me to go up there for a visit. When I went, he offered me a full ride and it was amazing. It was a school I always considered and hopefully from there I can go to Oklahoma State.”
Dennis will play catcher on the next level, and right now he feels he’s never been better. “I’ve always played catcher,” Dennis said. “I have an old catching coach name Tommy Jester, and he’s gotten me where I am. Coming here just made it even better, and I’m at my best point right now and can only get better.”
Cope sees Dennis as one of the top catchers in the state, and this year he’ll look to maximize his usage.
“Garrett is going as a catcher and I think defensively he’s one of the top two or three catchers in the state,” Cope said. “Offensively he’s getting better. I’ve talked to Coach Keith at Connors State quite a bit and he expects him to step in play a lot. Garrett is going to probably end up calling pitches this year. I think that will help his maturation process going into college.”
Hill is one of the most highly sought after players in the state of Arkansas. Between playing at Watson Chapel, on different summer circuits, and taking advantages of camps and combines, Hill was able to gain the attention of a number of high major Division I programs. Some mentioned by Hill were Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas State, Tulane, and Purdue.
“My recruitment process started when I was a sophomore,” Hill said.
“Last year as a junior is when it really took off. I started getting a lot of offers, and started getting looked at. I made the decision to go to Ole Miss because I feel like the baseball there is the best program in the country.”
Hill credits Cope for throwing him into the fire at a young age, because it prepared him for high level baseball.
“The coaches have helped me out a lot,” Hill said. “I’ve grown as a young adult, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here where I am today. When I was a freshman and he put me in those varsity situations it helped me grow up quick as a player.”
According to Cope, committing to a Southeastern Conference school speaks for itself. For Cope, what he enjoys about Hill the most other than his pitching prowess is the way he carries himself.
“If you sign with an SEC school it’s basically triple A baseball,” Cope said. “That’s what they compare that league to. Being 6’5, and being left-handed he’s gotten a lot of publicity from some scouts. It’s worthy and the one thing about Kaleb is he shows up every day. He doesn’t have an ego, he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, he works hard, he’s (yes-sir no-sir), and he does everything we ask him to do. You don’t get a lot of those and I have no doubt that he’ll be successful.”
Turner brings energy to his team, and it seems as if his motor is everlasting. Cope decided to move Turner from the outfield to the infield, and he thanks coach for helping him make that change.
“I made a transition from outfield to infield, and coach did a great job of guiding me,” Turner said. “I’m going to play short stop but periodically I’ll be in the outfield. I plan on giving them everything I got. Blood, sweat, tears, and whatever it takes. They want me to bring energy coming in as a freshman, and if I listen to the older guys I’ll be just fine.”
The one thing that all the coaches who’ve reached out to Cope in regards to Turner pointed out was his motor. Turner’s passion for the game can’t go unnoticed, and Cope expects that the high major Division I schools will be on his trail after a couple years at Three Rivers.
“Gianti came over as a ninth grader and he bought in to what we do,” Cope said.
“He’s a kid who’s motor is going 100 percent all the time. There’s been a lot more of coaches that I’ve talked to other than Three Rivers that really liked him, and they all highlight his effort. He plays with passion for the game. I try to tell these guys at all times somebody is watching. Gianti has bought into that and he’s turned himself into a very good baseball player.”
All three of these guys gave credit to the Watson Chapel coaching staff, and they all have the same overall goal for the upcoming season which is to win a state championship.