Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

SPORTS>> Cabot southpaw signs with coach-less Trojans

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Cabot pitcher Tim Payne became just the second Panther baseball player to sign a Division I scholarship when he signed on with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock last Thursday afternoon. Payne is a 6-foot, 4-inch southpaw.

Payne is currently unsure about who will be his head coach when he arrives on campus late this summer. UALR just announced Tuesday morning that head baseball coach Brian Rhees has been terminated after nine years. Rhees compiled a 190-292 record while overseeing stadium and facility renovations.

UALR called Payne last week and offered him the opportunity to back out of the commitment, but Payne decided to stick with his original choice even without knowing who his coach will be. Payne was also informed by pitching coach William Colberson, the man who recruited Payne to UALR, that he would not be back next season either.

Still, Payne chose to stay a Trojan.

“I just told them to go ahead and send my paperwork in,” Payne said. “Coach Colberson had a lot to do with my decision. I really thought he could help me out a lot. But I just really liked everything about UALR so I decided to stick with my decision.”

He didn’t have as good of a senior season on the mound as he had hoped, but a tall, hard-throwing lefty was too much upside potential for colleges to turn away from.

Payne chose the Trojans over several other schools ranging from mid-major DI to NAIA. While lots of schools courted Payne, he felt all along he wanted to be a Trojan.

“I kind of knew I wanted to play there when I played there in the juniors All-Star game last summer,” Payne said. “I pretty much had my heart set on UALR.”

Payne had an outstanding outing in that Xtra Innings Magazine sponsored event, blowing through the state’s best underclassmen throughout the two-day event.

Culbertson called Payne just a couple days later to express interest in Payne joining his team. Colberson kept in touch frequently and finally made an official scholarship offer after the Panthers swept West Memphis earlier this season.

Payne compiled a 5-3 record this season. He struck out 53 batters in 53 innings of work and walked 37.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Payne’s senior year at Cabot was hit hitting. Payne had his best season, by far, at the plate.
Payne had 65 at bats, picked up 29 hits including three doubles. He walked 14 times while striking out just seven times for a .446 batting average. He also drove in 14 runs this season.

Cabot coach Jay Fitch said Payne put in a lot of work to improve his hitting between his junior and senior seasons.

“Even though he’s always wanted to be a college pitcher, he has worked hard on his hitting mechanics the last three years,” Fitch said. “That coupled with him getting stronger and having confidence helped him to have the year he had at the plate. I like to call it senioritis—I expect them to have the best year of their careers as seniors.”

Payne plans to join a few of his senior teammates on the Jacksonville American Legion team this summer before reporting to UALR.