Three Cabot Panthers baseball players are taking their game to the collegiate level.
Dustin Morris is going to play for the Arkansas Baptist Buffaloes in Little Rock; Ryan Logan will play for the University of Central Arkansas Bears in Conway; Casey Vaughan will play for the Crowder College Roughriders in Neosho, Mo.
Morris, who will play at Arkansas Baptist, a junior college in Little Rock, has played baseball since he was 4 years old.
"I chose Baptist because it seemed like the best choice," Morris said. "If I went to a four-year school, I would sit the bench. At Baptist, I’ll be in the starting rotation and they are an above average team. I want to win and that’s what they do."
Morris said he signed to pitch and play infield.
"This is definitely my dream," Morris said. "I’ve always wanted to play college ball and if I keep working hard and play well, I would love to go to somewhere even bigger. That’s a real dream."
Morris was injured much of the 2013 high school season. He finished with 11 singles and a .293 batting average. He was 1-1 on the season pitching, throwing 18 innings with a 1.50 earned run average.
"It seems like yesterday when I had a chunky little seven grader telling me how was going to be a great pitcher for the Cabot Panthers," Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. "I had Dustin in my seventh-grade world history class. I told him he looked a little bit like Chipper Jones for the Atlanta Braves and started calling him Chipper. I had no idea it would actually stick."
Fitch said he was proud of the year that Morris had.
"He didn’t have the stats he wanted because of an elbow injury that sidelined him for a good part of the year but he was able to get healthy and help us down the home stretch."
Fitch said the Buffaloes are getting a steal with Morris.
"I think he will be able to contribute and really help them out during his freshman year," he said.
Morris said he plans to major in athletic training.
Logan, who will play at UCA, has been playing baseball for 14 years. He was looking at other schools.
"I was also looking at Lyon College, but one of the main reasons I chose UCA is because of Coach [Kirk] Kelley, the pitching coach at UCA," Logan said. "I’ve been told he is is the best coach that I will play for."
Logan said playing college baseball is a dream come true.
"Ever since I can remember, it has been a goal of mine," he said.
Logan, who has been a pitcher for the Panthers, will pitch for the Bears. He also said he would like to play outfield at UCA.
During his senior season, Logan had 26 singles, six doubles and 14 RBIs with a .340 batting average. He had a 3-6 record on the mound, pitching 46 innings. He had a 3.78 ERA.
"It will be tough to replace Ryno," Fitch said. "He was another great senior leader for us. I’ve had very few pitchers though the years who have been through as many wars as he has.
"Ryan has been pitching big time conference games for us since his 10th grade year. He has been a great role model for our younger pitchers to watch — he doesn’t throw the herds but he really knows to pitch and he misses bats."
Fitch said he’s excited for Logan to go to UCA.
"They are developing a tremendous program and Ryan will add to the quality that they already have," he said.
Logan said he plans to major in physical therapy.
Vaughan, who will play at Crowder, a junior college, has been playing baseball since he "could walk."
"My dad made sure to push me to love baseball at an early age," he said.
Crowder has been a successful program. Former Panthers player Sam Bates played there for two years before transferring to the University of Arkansas. Bates is now a player in the Kansas City Royals organization. Vaughan said Bates’ success there was one of the reasons he chose Crowder.
"I received an offer from Lyon College and I was interested in Arkansas State but Crowder was a no-brainer when the opportunity arose," Vaughan said.
Playing college baseball was a dream of Vaughan’s.
"It has been a goal of mine since I started to comprehend the game and all of its tough aspects," he said.
Vaughan said his plan it to go to Crowder and work hard like he did in high school and see how things work out.
"However, a big D-I school after Crowder is definitely in the back of my head," he said.
During his senior year, Vaughan was the Panthers’ leader in stolen bases (10), triples (2) and home runs (3). He also received the Panthers’ leadership award.
Vaughan hit .313 with 17 singles, three doubles and 12 RBIs.
Fitch said Vaughan was a great team leader in 2013.
"I’ve told the younger players that if you want to know how to play the game the right way, just watch Casey Vaughan," he said. "He takes the field on defense running full speed and even springs to first base on a walk. He plays the game the right way and players like that are a job to have."
Fitch said Vaughan has tremendous work ethic and it paid off for him.
"Going to Crowder is a nice honor … they have one of the best JUCO programs in the nation," he said. "I’m excited to see the great things he will do in college."
Vaughan plans to major in kinesiology. He wants to be an athletic trainer.