HANCEVILLE — Wallace State’s baseball team had five sophomores sign a letter of intent on Wednesday — all with Division I programs.
Wallace State ace Blake Rivera signed with Auburn University, outfielder Dalton Sinquefield signed with Troy University, pitcher Tanner Rusk inked with UAB, shortstop Kolby Robinson with Southeastern Louisiana and Jackson Tavel with Jacksonville State.
Rivera, a Smith’s Station native, becomes the seventh Wallace State pitcher in as many years to sign with an SEC school, including Blake Schilleci who signed with the Tigers last November.
“It’s huge to be able to sign with a program like Auburn and pitch one day for Butch Thompson, one of the best pitching coaches in the country. I look forward to going there and improving as much as I can for the next level,” Rivera said.
Rivera was splendid on the mound for Wallace State as a freshman, finishing 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA and recording 72 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. He was named to the All-ACCC North Division first team as the Lions went 46-13 and earned the ACCC North Division crown.
In June, Rivera was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 32nd round (966th selection overall).
“I made a good decision by coming back to Wallace State. We started off great last season, and I’m ready to get back out there and finish it. We have the team to do it, for sure,” Rivera added.
Sinquefield exploded on the scene for Wallace State at the plate as a freshman, hitting in the neighborhood of .400 over the season’s first two months. He finished hitting over .300 with a team-high 60 RBIs and was also an ACCC All-North Division selection.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to play for a Division I program, so I’m excited to have the opportunity. Troy University was one of the first schools to follow me and they believe in me,” Sinquefield said. “We still have unfinished business at Wallace State though. We want to go out on top as a sophomore class.”
Rivera and Sinquefield won a Class 7A state championship as juniors at Smith’s Station.
Rusk, a product of West Point High, verbally committed to UAB in September and made it official on Wednesday. As a freshman with the Lions, Rusk went 3-0 with three saves in 15 appearances, striking out 23 batters in 27 1/3 innings and compiling a 3.62 ERA. He served as one of the team’s primary closers on a staff that compiled a 3.08 ERA.
“I’m definitely excited to sign with UAB. It doesn’t matter what role they want me to fulfill, as long as I get to pitch. I’m thankful for all of the great coaches I’ve had from high school to here, who have helped me have this opportunity to develop into a Division I pitcher,” Rusk said.
Robinson’s career will continue outside of the state after signing with Southeastern Louisiana, located in Hammond, La., and part of the Southland Conference.
Robinson has been on Southeastern Louisiana’s radar since his high school days at Cullman, where he was part of a Class 6A state championship as a junior.
“Southeastern Louisiana thought I needed to go the junior college route and fill out more, and I’ve worked hard at that. It feels great they remained interested in me. I’ve been dreaming of a moment like this for a long time. Not everyone gets to play at the Division I level,” Robinson said. “It’s a great accomplishment, and now I look forward to finishing out my sophomore season at Wallace State.”
Robinson was a steady hand in all aspects for Wallace State last season, hitting .340 with 26 RBIs, 30 runs scored, six doubles and seven stolen bases. Defensively, he made only 11 errors in 59 games.
“These guys signing are some of my best friends. They are like brothers. It’s awesome to be able to sign on the Division I level with four other teammates, and I’m sure we’ll have others sign as the season approaches. It goes to show that Wallace State is a great baseball program,” Robinson said.
Finally, Jackson Tavel is new to the Wallace State program as a sophomore transfer, and he inked with Jacksonville State on Wednesday. Tavel, a left-handed pitcher, is a 2016 Corner High graduate.
“I’m thankful I get the opportunity to play at Jacksonville State, and I’m excited to be a part of this Wallace State team,” Tavel said. “I’ve never been a part of a team that’s as close as these guys are. It’s truly a big family.”
Robinson, Sinquefield and Rusk each earned NJCAA All-Academic honors as freshmen, including Robinson with a 4.0 GPA.
Wallace State has additional sophomores across all of its sports still mulling four-year offers.