05/15/09 — Rams trio heads to next level

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Rams trio heads to next level

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 15, 2009 1:46 PM

SNOW HILL -- Dressed in the colors of their future teams, three Greene Central seniors extended their respective baseball careers Thursday afternoon.

Two opted to stay close to home.

The other, although he'll live hours away from home, knows his mom Deborah will somehow keep a watchful eye on his progress.

Infielder Stephen McDonald inked with perennial JUCO power Lenoir Community College, while catcher Alex Brann signed with Division II Barton College. Jasper Jones, a crafty right-handed thrower, will head a little farther west to play for N.C. Central University.

Each player attended workouts with their respective team and each player said the coaches' encouragement swayed their decision.

Jones joins a program that is trying to establish its identity on college baseball's top level. NCCU just completed its second season as an independent in the Division I ranks.

"The interest from the coaches was great," said Jones, who received attention from Alabama A&M. "I really think I can make a difference at Central. I know I'm going to have to work for it and that nothing will be given to me."

McDonald will suit up for the Lancers, who emerged the national runners-up in 2008 to LSU-Eunice in the JUCO Division II World Series. Lenoir cobbled out an 18-win season this spring and is participating in the Region X tournament which began today in Burlington.

The Lancers return nearly their entire infield next season.

"It's not going to be given to me, but if I keep working hard, I'll have a spot waiting for me," said McDonald.

Brann enters a unique situation and said he had to get friendly with Barton's pitching staff. Each hurler had its favorite catcher this spring, and head coach Todd Wilkinson employed a platoon system that worked well.

The Bulldogs compiled 30 wins and earned a top-three finish in the season-ending Conference Carolinas tournament.

Brann will also join former Greene Central standout Lance Murray, a 2006 alum who spent two seasons at Lenoir before transferring to Barton. Murray is part of the Bulldogs' battery.

"I'm going to miss my favorite catcher," said Jones, who patted Brann on the back. "And I'm going to miss the home cooking, too, but I'll be all right."

Before the trio walks across the stage for graduation, they've got some unfinished business in their high school careers.

Greene Central (15-8 overall) welcomes Southern Guilford today for an opening-round game in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A playoffs. First pitch is 7 p.m. for the Rams, who are playing their first postseason game at home in seven seasons.

McDonald, Brann and Jones helped guide Greene Central to its first Eastern Plains 2-A Conference title since 2002, and 22nd championship overall in program history since 1967. Included in the title run was a regular-season sweep over archrival North Lenoir, which had won three consecutive EPC crowns.

"I don't want the signings to cap our career," said McDonald. "We want something a little bit bigger."

Brann agreed.

"I hope our conference championship isn't as high as we go," said Brann. "This group of seniors can lead our team. We have a lot of chemistry and have defined ourselves as a team. We have played together our whole lives and know what each person is going to do."