Union Grove

UNION GROVE - Scotty Laymance talked about the "total program" on Thursday when three more Union Grove athletes signed letters-of-intent to continue their academic and athletic careers at the college level.

Joining a long list of Lions signing on the dotted line this academic year were Elijah Baker, Nathan Ferrell and Kooper Smith. Baker will run cross country at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. Ferrell will be part of the track team specializing in throws (discus and shot put) at Southern Arkansas University and Smith will play baseball at the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain.

"It has been a super year for us," said Laymance, noting that a total of seven athletes in track/cross country, football, softball, volleyball and baseball have signed letters-of-intent this year. "For a small school to have that many kids moving on to the next level, it just says a lot about the kids, the coaches, the teachers and the community overall."

Baker was a two-time individual district champion and two-time state qualifier in cross country and also was an area and regional qualifier in the 1,600-meter run four times during his high school career.

He finished 90th overall at the UIL State Cross Country Meet in 2018 and was 54th at the state meet this past season.

ETBU competes in the American Southwest Conference along with Belhaven, Concordia, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, LeTourneau, Louisiana College, Mary Hardin-Baylor, McMurry, Ozarks, Sul Ross and UT Dallas.

Ferrell, an area qualifier in the shot put and discus in 2018 and 2019 and a regional qualifier in both events in 2019, will join a Southern Arkansas program that was picked second in the Great American Conference preseason poll for outdoor track and field.

Ferrell helped lead the Lions to a pair of wins his season before the season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Union Grove won the Tommy Atkins Relays in White Oak and the Dee Mackey Relays, hosted by the Lions. He finished third in the discus (122) and fifth in the shot put (39-6.50) in White Oak and was second in the discus (125) and fifth in the shot put (39-0.75) at the Dee Mackey Relays.

Southern Arkansas, located in Magnolia, compete in the GAC with Arkansas-Monticello, Arkansas Tech, East Central, Harding, Henderson State, Northwestern Oklahoma State, Oklahoma Baptist, Ouachita Baptist, Southern Nazarene and Southwestern Oklahoma State.

Smith was hitting .269 with five RBI and had a 2-0 record on the mound with a 3.31 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and just three walks in 12.2 innings pitched when the 2020 baseball season came to a halt in March. The Lions were 7-3 at that time.

In three-plus seasons, he drove in 60 runs at the plate. In 2019 and the abbreviated 2020 season, he struck out 35 and walked six in 23.1 innings. The Lions were 63-29 in his four seasons.

Arkansas Rich Mountain, located in Mena, Arkansas, was scheduled to play its first baseball season this past spring. The Bucks will be coached by Lance Spigner, who took the job as the program's first coach after winning 17 conference or district championships and five state championships at Horatio High School in Arkansas.

Follow Jack Stallard on Twitter: @lnjsports