Sometime early last summer, one wisecracking sportswriter decided the Bryant Black Sox should actually be called the Bryant “Logans”. That was because three of the key members of the team, as in high school with the Hornets, were Logan Catton, Logan Chambers and Logan Grant. That trio, along with Coby Greiner, Will McEntire and Jake Wright, have indeed been, to one extent or another, the core of both teams since they were sophomores.
In fact, as sophomores, they helped the Hornets surprise a lot of people by reaching the semifinals of the State tournament before losing to the eventual champion, Cabot. And, that summer, help the Black Sox reach the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., where they finished fourth.
Last year, with just four seniors, the Hornets reached the quarterfinals before losing to the eventual State champion, Springdale Har-Ber. And, in the summer, the Sox won State again and made it to the finals of the MidSouth Regional in New Orleans, one win away from a return trip to the World Series.
On Monday, in advance of that senior campaign in the spring, Catton, Chambers, Grant, Greiner, McEntire and Wright, thinking in terms of team and togetherness, all signed letters of intent to continue their educations and baseball careers in college. Catton and Grant signed with the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith (UAFS) while Greiner and Wright signed to play at Murray State Junior College in Tishomingo, Okla. Chambers committed to Crowder Junior College in Neosho, Mo., and McEntire agreed to play for the defending College World Series runner-up Arkansas Razorbacks.
“This group right here, as freshmen Coach (Kirk) Bock had them,” said current head coach and former assistant to Bock at Bryant High Travis Queck. “We knew we had a good solid foundation group, a group that knew baseball, that knew the fundamentals. They knew how to compete, who just needed to physically grow.
“And to see them make that progression over the last four years and learn a little bit more about the game, has been tremendous,” he added. “As a group, for the last two years, we’ve relied heavily on them and they’ve come through. They’re a bunch of winners. They come from solid families and that’s key. And they provide good leadership for the younger kids. They had to do that at a young age, so they’re used to it by now. They’ve played a lot of games.”
“They have won a lot of games for us, very good group,” said Darren Hurt, the manager of the Black Sox American Legion team. “A very good chemistry with them and the group ahead of them. But other than Jake coming in — Jake kind of reminds me of (Seth) Tucker who came in with a group that had been playing together their whole life and fit right in. Jake was able to do that too because he’s such a good kid.
“You’re talking about a group of kids right there that have played together literally their whole life,” he added. “And it shows. It helps us win ballgames. Those guys, they’ve got each other’s backs, I can tell you that. And they play really hard.”
“It bodes well for us to have six guys with experience to sign for scholarships this spring,” Queck related. “But they realize we’ve got work to do. We haven’t accomplished anything. You know, I hang my hat on these guys as much as we try to produce that.”
The Hornets won State titles in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. These guys and their teammates are determined to add 2019 to the list.
“With this class and the class below us and the sophomore class, I think we’ve got a really stout team this year,” said Catton, the son of Debra and Michael Catton. Michael did a lot to lay the groundwork for their success having coached all but Wright through Cal Ripken, Little League and Babe Ruth ball, including a trip to the 14-and-under World Series.
“I think our class is going to be really good this year,” agreed McEntire, the son of Madison and Crissy McEntire. “I feel like our seniors will help lead Bryant to a State championship, hopefully a National championship.”
“I really feel like this is going to be the year,” added Wright, the son of John and Lynn Wright. “We’ve got a lot of experience and we haven’t had that the last two years, obviously. But this year, I really feel good about.”
“It’s the same thing over and over with these guys,” said Queck. “It’s high character, a high character young man. Logan Catton does it in the classroom. He does it on the baseball field. He’s not a very vocal guy but a leader by example.
“Logan has, I would venture to say, made the biggest jump last year for us,” he continued. “He took over third base and there was not a problem at all. The young man handled the situations, handled the pressure and actually had a phenomenal summer swinging the bat. Hopefully that translates over for us and we can benefit from the adjustments that he made during the summer at the plate. Defensively, he’s a blue-collar guy for us.”
After hitting just .125 in 32 at bats for the Hornets last spring — he was often DH’d for, Catton ripped the ball to a .375 average during the summer with the Black Sox.
“Catton is one of my favorite ballplayers and it’s simply because he’s one of those guys that you get, it’s kinda rare, that just does everything good,” said Hurt. “He’s not going to hit you any home runs and he might not make spectacular plays but he’s going to make the plays that he’s supposed to make. He’s going to get the bunt down. He can execute a hit-and-run. He can steal a base. He can play anywhere you want him to, literally. You can put him on the mound. You can put him in the outfield. Whatever you ask him to do, he’s going to compete his tail off. He’s versatile, which allows you to do a lot of different things.”
Asked about his bat turn, Catton said, “To be honest, the coaches kind of really changed, just kind of how they coached changed. I just settled in and got comfortable at the plate.”
Regarding UAFS, Catton said, “I wasn’t really thinking about playing college baseball until this past summer.
“It started with Legion really,” he continued. “Ozzie (Hurt)’s the head recruiter (at UAFS) and he coaches us throughout the summer, so he knows my assets, what I can do and all the skills that I have. So that’s the main person who really recruited me. Me and LG (Grant) went up there to visit not too long ago and we really liked it. It’s really nice.”
Catton said his favorite position is probably second base.
“I’m pretty versatile,” he acknowledged. “I think it’s because I’ve played a lot of different places. Growing up, I played second, and I played short and I played third. I picked up third about my sophomore year. Just one time, during batting practice, Coach Queck said, ‘Play third’ and I picked that up.”
Chambers, the son of Leslie and Fred Chambers, led the Hornets with a .385 batting average last spring with 27 runs scored, 19 driven in and a team-high eight stolen bases. He only struck out four times in 104 at bats. Then, he hit .398 for the Black Sox with a team-high 56 runs scored. He led the team with 49 runs batted in, 20 doubles, 5 triples and 15 steals. He also clubbed three home runs as part of his 28 extra-base hits.
Hurt put him in elite company, saying, “You know, I don’t talk, Hunter Mayall, Trevor Ezell ——— they’re kind of in a different stratosphere when I talk about hitters. They’re the best the I’ve seen. I don’t try to get in that comparison very often because those two were special. But this guy’s special. He can swing it.
“And the fact that he can play anywhere is what Crowder loves and what we love,” he added. “We stuck him at shortstop and left him there last summer and he filled a hole for us and did a great job. But he can go play anywhere. If you’ve got a kid that can play here, he can go there and that’s what he’ll do at Crowder. They’re going to get his bat in the lineup, immediately. So, it’ll be a matter of where they need him to play and he’ll play there.
“Logan is another guy with high, high, high character,” Queck said. “I was telling his mother, I remember him at Bethel Middle School, obviously before he was up with us. He was asking questions then about what we do in our program. Such a willingness to learn the game. Such a willingness to do whatever he needs to do to help somebody else on his team.
“Not only that but he’s a tremendous athlete, a tremendous baseball player,” the coach added. “A guy who, last year, swung it very, very well from the left side for us. He demonstrated a lot of power.
“Defensively, he may end up playing shortstop, second base for us,” he noted. “He may be a college third baseman, first baseman. The thing with Logan is everybody on the team trusts him. They know exactly what we’re going to get from him. They have a high regard for him.”
“It’s been a long journey since my freshman year,” Chambers allowed. “I’ve had to work really hard to get to where I’m at. The more and more I’ve worked, it’s paid off for me.
“I like to play kind of everywhere, third,” he mentioned. “I like playing the corners. I don’t have, necessarily, a specific favorite position but being in the infield has definitely been where I need to be. (Crowder) would like me to play infield as well. There’s not a for-sure position. Kind of like here, I can play wherever. They’ve considered outfield but I’m thinking I’ll get to stay in the infield.
Regarding his surge in power, Chambers said, “I really looked about my future and where I wanted to be at this point and I had to hit the weights hard and work on my swing to get that extra power.”
Chambers said Crowder and assistant Tyler Sawyer, a former Hornet, contacted him about halfway through the summer in 2017.
“I talked to them some and they really liked the way I played,” he related. “I really liked the way they do things too. It kind of fits with how Bryant plays, how I’ve grown up playing.
“UCA was a big option of mine,” Chambers mentioned. “It was between them and Crowder. They liked me too and I liked that program as well, but I felt comfortable with Crowder and the way they do things. That’s the best fit for me.”
And there’s this: “Crowder sends a lot of guys to a lot of bigger schools and find places that really fit for the player,” Chambers said. “That’s another reason I chose that program.”
Said Queck, “Logan Grant, I’ll tell you, may have the most potential of anybody on our team. The young man, his freshman year, had Tommy John (surgery) and it took a little bit longer than, obviously, we would like, and him, to recover from it. It was just one of those things. How ever it heels, it heels.”
“It was my freshman year,” said Grant, the son of Wesley and Bridgette Grant. “I played about half that seasont. We went to Tampa, Fla., and I tore it during that tournament. I had surgery that summer and I didn’t play Legion ball for two years. I didn’t play my whole sophomore year.
“Freshman year all the way up to junior year, I just sat the bench,” he said. “It was tough, just seeing all my friends like Coby and Catton and all of them playing sophomore year. I was like, ‘Gosh, I wish that was me.’
“I always did extra therapy and all that just to try and try more,” Grant added. “I think I did too much. I overworked myself and I got set back a couple of times. Then I just relaxed and said, ‘I’m just going to let God take my arm’ and figure out what happens next. I finally got back this summer and it was nice.”
In high school, Grant threw 15 innings. Though he went 0-2, he finished with an earned run average of 0.93. He struck out 10 but walked 12.
“Last year, my first game was against Lakeside and it went pretty good,” he recalled. “I think I pitched a perfect two innings. So, I was really excited.”
“We got him going about midway through the year and he threw some quality innings for us,” Queck noted. “It wasn’t always clean, but you could see. The young man wasn’t 100 percent and he’s out there, giving it all in a 1-0 ballgame against Cabot, which ended up first or second in our conference with a very, very good team. If he locates it, it may be a shutout and we’re talking about a different result to the season.
“But Logan, I’m telling you, once it clicks for him, the sky’s the limit,” he stated. “He has a solid foundation to be very, very successful and I hope it happens for us.”
Said Hurt, “I think Logan is maybe the steal of the bunch. I told the UAFS coaches that they got a steal. This guy on the mound is going to be really, really good. And already is. And he’s so athletic and runs well. I think he has a chance to be an everyday player wherever he goes.”
During the summer, Grant hit .275 in 69 at bats with 10 stolen bases. On the mound, he worked 32 2/3 innings and wound up with an ERA of 0.00. He allowed just three unearned runs all summer and just 15 hits. He walked 16 but he struck out 38.
“He’s got to figure some things out offensively but, on the mound, he’s a stud,” Hurt added.
“Coach Darren was huge for me in the summer,” Grant said. “He pulled me aside from everyone else and said, ‘Do your thing. Do what you have to do to get better.’ So, I would take more rest than normal people would, and it got me to the point where I could throw every day without any pain. It’s been tough but I’m back and better now.”
And when did he know he was back?
“Definitely in the Regional tournament when we played the team from Mississippi,” he recounted. “They were huge dudes and they hit the ball like crazy and I shut them down. I don’t want to brag but, that was the game where all my emotion came out on the very last out.
“I remember it was the last inning and I got two outs then I walked a guy,” he continued. “I remember thinking, I’m just going to end the game. I’m going to pick him off just to show out. Then a couple of pitches later, I did. I’m punching the air. My emotions are just going crazy. That moment right there. I was walking back to the sidelines, giving high fives and I’m thinking, ‘I’m back, finally.’”
There were few offers for Grant.
“UAFS was pretty much the only one that got me,” he said. “Since I was playing Legion ball with Ozzie and Darren Hurt, they really got to see me a lot. Ozzie’s one of the leading recruiters up there. He wanted me to visit, as soon as we got through with summer ball. Me and Catton went up there to visit and he offered us a couple days later.
“I was like, yes, because I’ve always been dead set on it,” Grant admitted. “Dylan, Ozzie and Boston Heil are up there, Logan Allen. They were always telling me how much fun it was up there. So, once I got the offer, I was right there.”
Playing shortstop and centerfield for the Hornets, Greiner, the son of Jason and Mendi Greiner, hit .291.
“Greiner is a very good defensive centerfielder,” said Hurt. “He doesn’t really go noticed. Arm stuff, he’s got to work on out there. He can play anywhere but that guy can play some centerfield. He’s got to get stronger offensively and once he does that, he can be an everyday player.”
Queck added, “Coby’s been solid at shortstop and in the outfield. At the plate, he’s been a solid guy. I think he’s probably got a career .300 average. He understands, we’ve just got more to do, as a team, we’ve got more to accomplish.”
“But where they’re really getting a steal is on the mound,” Hurt insisted. “At times this summer, he was borderline unhittable. From the side, he’s very good on the mound.”
For the Hornets, Greiner was a shutdown reliever. He went 3-1 and posted a 2.38 ERA. He had two saves and, in 47 innings, he struck out 25.
“I remember his freshman year, he comes in as a pitcher,” Queck related. “He’s a buck-10 soaking wet and everything’s straight. So, Coach Bock introduces the idea about possibly moving him down, dropping him down, and Coach (Stephen) Tharp went along with it. And we saw more movement from his fastball. Then he figured how to locate the fastball and the slider so you’re getting both sides of the plate with two different pitches.
“And the young man just exploded off of that,” he continued. “He took that and ran. And he’s already athletic. With that, on the mound, that’s an easy transition for him. He got a tremendous amount of work for us last year, a tremendous amount of outs when we needed them at crucial times. A ground-ball pitcher, he’s not going to create many flyballs, so we get easy outs right there provided we catch the ball.”
“When I started high school, I was just throwing over the top and I threw harder that way, but I just thought it was easier to hit,” Greiner explained. “I could always throw sidearm, I just never did. In summer baseball, one time I just tried it and it worked really well. So, ever since then, I’ve done it.
“I love centerfield,” he acknowledged. “I like pitching, but I love centerfield.”
Regarding Murray State, Greiner said, “It was in summer ball and Coach (Ryan) McClaren, their recruiting coordinator, came to watch us. We were in Nebraska and he saw me pitch. Right from then, he said he noticed me. He got my number while I was in New Orleans (at the Regional) and asked me if I’d come up for a visit when I got back. I went on that, then he offered me on the phone after that. I went back for my next visit and committed there.
“I thought about Arkansas-Fort Smith,” he said. “It was pretty tough because Grant and Catton are both going there. There’s a bunch of Bryant guys already there, a bunch of my friends there. It was a tough decision, but I think I made the best one. I like Fort Smith a lot, but I think JUCO gives me a better opportunity to maybe go D1 after two years. That was the main thing.”
During the Legion season, Greiner was 4-2 with a 4.16 ERA, which ballooned a bit late in the season as the Sox battled through State and Regional tournaments. He finished with 33 strikeouts and just nine walks over 33 2/3 innings.
“Obviously, they recruited me for pitching,” he said of Murray State, “but they said they’d let me play the field too, try to play outfield. If he saw they needed to specialize me in one then they would do that but, until then, he would let me try both.”
“I went up there for camp for the second or third year in a row and pitched the best I had all summer,” McEntire said of his contact with the Razorbacks. “I struck out nine of 10 batters up there and they offered me a walk-on spot.
“They told me I had an SEC-ready breaking ball, but I need to get my velo up,” he recalled. “They have a weighted ball program. I’m probably going to move up there in June and just work out all summer.”
“If they put four or five mile per hour on him, he’s going to be the real deal,” Hurt said. “We call him ‘Big Game Mac’ and it’s true, the bigger the game the last two summers the better he pitched.”
After his sophomore season at BHS, McEntire pitched complete games to win the State title for the Black Sox and in one of two games they won at the World Series.
“My sophomore year was better than my junior year, but I plan on picking it up a lot this year,” McEntire said. “I felt this summer I was sluggish compared to my sophomore year when I had plenty of energy going into it.”
For the Hornets last spring, McEntire went 4-4 with a 1.60 ERA. In 48 innings, he struck out 64 and walked just 21. In the summer, he was 3-1 with a 2.18, striking out 41 in 43 1/3 innings with 18 free passes.
“We put him in some really tough spots when he was young,” acknowledged Hurt. “But the bigger the game, the better he is. He really focuses up in those spots. He’s got a really, really nice off-speed pitch. His slider is as good as anybody. A little more velo and he’s going to be tough.”
“Will has the makings and the framework to just explode,” Queck stated. “Obviously, I hope —and we hope as a team — that it happens for us (this spring) but, if not, I can see it happening at the University of Arkansas. Them taking a chance and offering him this opportunity is phenomenal for Will.
“He did a great job for us being our ace,” he noted. “He took every challenge and did a great job with it. Sometimes he was outmanned and outmatched but there was no pouting or no bad body language even. He just competed. And that’s what we ask of Will. It’s going to be fun to watch him this spring.”
“I grew up being a Razorback fan,” McEntire said. “So it’s kind of awesome being able to go up there and play for them.”
He said that he considered offers from Crowder and UAFS.
I’ll go up there and try my best,” said the big right-hander. “I’ve got nothing to lose, honestly.”
“I moved here my eighth-grade year from Malvern because my parents got jobs in Little Rock,” Wright recalled. “They told me to pick somewhere between Malvern and Little Rock and I chose Bryant because they’d just got done winning a State championship in 2014.”
“Jake Wright is a great kid,” Hurt said. “He came in and fit in right away.”
Write agreed, adding of his teammates, “They’ll be my best friends for the rest of my life. I fit in great.”
“I can’t speak highly enough about that young man,” Queck said. “That young man since his freshman year has been a grinder, a guy that’s willing to do the hard work. And there’s never a ‘I can’t do that’ moment. There’s never a ‘That’s too much to ask of me’. It’s always, ‘yes, sir’, ‘all right, I’m going to find a way’. He is proven and we’ve hung our hat on him behind the plate for the last two years.”
Wright, like Catton, Chambers, Greiner and McEntire, played a big role in getting the Black Sox to the World Series in 2017 and a win away in 2018.
“He’s going to be really good because it’s never enough for him,” Hurt said. “If he hits .320, he’s got to bat .360. He’s a kid who, if he goes 4 for 4 and we lose the game, he didn’t do enough. But if he goes 1 for 4 and we win then he’s okay. He’s a team guy. He’s a guy that I think can play some outfield. He played a little bit for us. Third base too, and he’s obviously a really good catcher. He’s a good one.”
Pressing after a slow start at the plate, Wright hit just .221 for the Hornets in 2018. But he was among the team leaders in walks with 20. In Legion, he broke out as he had the year before and hit .336 with team-highs in walks with 41, homers with 5 and was second to Chambers in RBIs (38), doubles (17) and triples.
“It’s just a different scenario in Legion,” Wright said. “It’s a lot more laidback. I feel like that’s more the environment I thrive in. And, once I dug myself into that hole (in high school), it was hard to get out. I had all this pressure I put on myself and I just couldn’t find a way to get out of it. But once things got more relaxed, I just found my groove again and rolled with it.”
“I think he could play in the outfield for us and he may this spring if we can get another catcher along to play at the high level in the way he handles the pitching staff,” Queck mentioned. “The charisma and the character he has behind the dish is tremendous. So, we’ve got to have that same leadership if there’s somebody else coming in behind him. But that’s what Jake Wright’s all about, leadership. And that’s phenomenal. I’m excited for him.
Like Greiner, Wright was first targeted by Murray State during the Black Sox’ trip to a tournament in Omaha, Neb., around the time of the College World Series.
“I had a really good performance up there. It just kind of worked out,” he explained.
“I had offers from Delta State and Harding as well as Monticello and Arkansas-Fort Smith,” Wright said. “This decision is going to allow me to see how far I can get because, coming out of a JUCO after two years, you can go anywhere. So, I just want to see how far I can go.
“They want me to play catcher,” he replied when asked about Murray’s plans for him. “They said I may be able to help out at third base a little bit as well as left field, pretty much the same positions I’ve played for the Legion program. But mainly catcher, they said they’ve got a spot for me there.”
Wright has also starred for the Hornets’ football team and will be at outside linebacker this Saturday when Bryant battles North Little Rock for the State championship at War Memorial Stadium.