Before the 2016 baseball season, Bryant Hornets head coach Kirk Bock and top assistant Travis Queck felt pretty confident about their pitching, liked the potential of their bats but, as had often been the case, weren’t certain about how the defense would shape up.
(It’s another testament to how the defense always came together that the Hornets had won State titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 despite those early concerns each season.)
The core of any baseball defense is up the middle, catcher, shortstop, second base and centerfield. The Hornets were outstanding at three of those spots but the coaches were struggling to determine who could step in at second when they had, in the past, boasted extraordinary defenders like Ozzie Hurt and Korey Thompson (who both went on to play in college).
Ultimately, they decided to give the new guy a shot.
Seth Tucker wasn’t brand new. He’d joined the program before his sophomore season after moving to Bryant from the Chicago area.
The rest is history.
“He solidified our infield,” said Bock, who led the Hornets to yet another State crown in 2016. “He did some tremendous things for us, offensively and defensively.”
“I don’t know if we would’ve done the things we did without Seth,” said Queck who succeeded Bock as head coach this season. “He handled the position well, gave us some athleticism on the bases and anytime he was at the plate. He had a huge impact on how those guys played. It was fun to watch. That’s why you’re seeing the things he’s achieving.”
Those achievements reached a new level on Wednesday as Tucker, the son of Robin and John Tucker, signed a letter of intent to continue his baseball career and his education on scholarship at Hendrix University in Conway.
“They’re getting a guy that is dedicated to his education, a hard-working individual on the baseball field and they’re really going to benefit from having Seth Tucker in their program,” Queck stated. “He’s the ultimate competitor. The guy hustles around. He’s got a ton of energy. He’s a guy that, no matter what position they ask him, is going to play. We’ve asked a lot of Seth, playing outfield, infield, pitching and he’s never backed down from the challenge.”
That’s been Tucker’s role this season. One of the few holdovers from the 2016 team, he’s developed into a leader on and off the field, a bridge from the past success to future champions.
“Just being there for teammates,” Tucker said. “We stress it big time, coming through when your team needs you then eventually, later on in life, coming through when your family needs you. That’s something that’s always been stressed.
“It’s been great being a leader on the team,” he added. “I’ve love it. I love every single one of the young guys. It’s been rough not having those guys that I used to play with. It’s been rough losing a couple of games here but I think we’re going to get back on track soon and it’ll be a lot more fun.”
Already noted for being a starter on a Class 7A State title team, Tucker, playing for the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team that summer, was starting on a team that won the Senior Legion State tournament and competed in the Mid-South Regional Tournament for a shot at the American Legion World Series. State was held at the Hendrix ballfield, with Warriors head coach Neil Groat there every day.
“Ever since we played up there, (Groat) has kind of eyeballed him and a couple of others he’s been working on,” related Sox manager Darren Hurt. “And I’m kind of glad that it worked out the way it did because he really really wants Seth up there. I think he’s going to get opportunities right away and mainly because, if you’ve got a hole, he can fill it. It doesn’t matter where it’s at.”
“The summer after my junior year, after we won State, I sent an email to (Hendrix) saying I was really interested in the school, education-wise,” Tucker related. “Coach emailed me right back and said he had already been thinking about me and it just went on from there. He came to a couple of games and liked what he saw. They gave me an academic offer because they can’t do athletic offers and it worked out real well.”
He’d considered Arkansas-Fort Smith and Henderson State in Arkadelphia. What sold him on Hendrix?
“Definitely, the quality of the education,” Tucker stated. “I think I would want that type of degree, absolutely. Probably teacher/coach is what I’m thinking, an education degree. I might be interested in some type of history degree as well.
“They said that they would probably want me in centerfield but not sure with infield or anything like that,” he said of the plans that were laid out for him by the Warriors staff. “They definitely want me out of the bullpen as well.”
The right-hander’s emergence on the mound began to develop when Bock and pitching coach Stephen Tharp decided to see if he could slide his arm slot down, to become a side-arm or submarine pitcher.
“I came in as a conventional pitcher,” Tucker said. “I didn’t have the velo (velocity) like a Zach Jackson or an Evan Lee (the Hornets’ 2016 aces), so we tried to create more deception to try to get guys out instead of the whole velo factor. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
Indeed, Tucker is one of the Hornets’ two conference starters on the mound this year, highlighted by a stellar performance against 7A-Central Conference rival Little Rock Catholic.
He said he took to the new approach quickly.
“I’ve always been a guy in the infield that kind of throws a little sidearm,” he explained. “So it wasn’t too bad. I could locate but I was getting a real feel for it towards the end of my junior year. I started to get a good feel for the slider and locating the fastball.”
“The thing about Seth is, I can plug him in anywhere,” Hurt said. “That’s what makes him so valuable to us and, I know, to the high school also. We can play him in the outfield, shortstop, second base and he’s a dang good pitcher too. He can do it all.”
Tucker played football last fall as a senior and became a reliable wide receiver in the Hornets’ revised passing attack. But in the team’s week 9 game, a first-place showdown at North Little Rock, he suffered a broken collarbone and missed the rest of the season.
“It was fun and I loved it,” he said of playing football. “But the injury at the end of the year set me back for a few weeks in baseball. But the lessons that I learned from football definitely helped.
“It was tough but sometimes,” he said of the rehab. “But you’ve got to play the cards that you’re dealt and work with that. That’s what I had to learn was just working through things like that.”
Tucker acknowledged that there was some culture shock too when he made the move from Chicago.
“Absolutely. Everything. Food, accents, all that. Everything was different, especially the baseball. Baseball was real laidback there and, to come into such a strict program with discipline and all that helped me grow as a man and as a ballplayer.”
“Seth’s been a hard worker, a consummate leader the entire three years he’s been in our program,” concluded Queck. “He’s been a joy to be around.”
Bock added, “I called Seth because I couldn’t be at the signing due to a prior commitment. I thanked him for playing for us. I think he’s a top-notch kid and, obviously, a good player. I think he’s going to be an asset for Hendrix.”