ELLISVILLE – A pair of Jones County Junior College sophomore baseball standouts will continue their senior college careers on the Division I level.
Bobcat pitcher Andrew Pierce signed with the University of Southern Mississippi and outfielder Ladd Rhodes inked with Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday morning in the Media Room of JCJC's C.L. Neill Student Center. It was the first day of the early signing period for prospective NCAA student-athletes.
"We are very proud of them," said JCJC head baseball coach Christian Ostrander of Pierce and Rhodes. "These guys have worked extremely hard, they were a big part of our success last year and will be this year as well. Not only are they great players, but they are also great people and leaders of our team.
"We are going to miss them, but we are proud of them. The hard work they have put in has paid off and now they have a chance to go play Division I baseball."
Pierce, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound right-hander, enjoyed a stellar freshman season for JCJC. He posted a 10-2 record with a sterling, 1.94 ERA. He had 106 strikeouts in 93 innings, allowing just 69 hits and 23 walks.
Pierce was chosen as a first-team NJCAA All-American, All-Region 23 and All-MACJC performer.
"Coach Oz has worked with me really hard and it's gotten me to where I am today," said Pierce, who was a standout athlete at Stringer High School. "I am really glad that Southern was interested in me. I've signed and gotten it all over with and it's time to move on."
The Bobcats posted a 38-12 record in 2010 and won the MACJC South Division.
Pierce hopes the team can continue that success in 2011.
"I'm setting my goals higher than I did last year and I hope to have a better record than I did last year," he said. "I hope to lead my team and we will go as far as we can go."
Pierce will take his talents to a highly successful program.
The Golden Eagles of head coach Scott Berry captured the Conference USA Tournament championship in 2010, posting a 36-24 record. Southern Miss made its eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Rhodes, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound left-handed batting and throwing outfielder, was solid for the Bobcats as a freshman. He hit .273 with one home run, two doubles, 22 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Rhodes was also excellent defensively in the outfield.
"I was excited to come here and I learned a lot playing at Jones," said Rhodes, who played at Gulfport High School. "I am excited about going to Southeastern, but we still want to win a state championship and leave our mark here."
Southeastern Louisiana, under the guidance of head coach Jay Artigues, posted a 40-19 record last year, including a sweep of Mississippi State University in Starkville, but just missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid.
Pierce and Rhodes both have some unfinished business at JCJC.
The Bobcats, after having played all of their games on the road last year, will be moving into the new, Community Bank Park in 2011. JCJC opens the season and the stadium with a 2 p.m. doubleheader vs. Baton Rouge Community College (La.) on Feb. 9.
"We talk every day about what it's going to be like to play under the lights in the stadium, especially after traveling for every game last year," said Rhodes. "It's going to be exciting to be out there on the new field and show what we can do."
Last year, Bobcat pitcher Zach Toney signed a Division I scholarship with Austin Peay State University and outfielder Chris Lofton was drafted in the ninth round by the San Francisco Giants and signed a professional baseball contract.
Now with Pierce and Rhodes going to the Division I level, it even further boosts the Bobcat baseball program.
"It's always good when your players are signing Division I," Ostrander said. "That's the goal of most every college player – to play at that level. Having a program now where we have guys getting that opportunity means we are getting the right people in here, plus we have guys who are working hard.
"Hopefully, that means we are doing the right thing in preparing them to play at the highest level in college."