The kid who has been a Titan all his life has decided he wants to become a Bulldog.
Standout McDowell High senior catcher Kell Smith signed to play at Wingate University earlier this week. The son of head coach Alex Smith, Kell has been a fixture in the Titan dugout since he was knee-high to the players and dashing onto the field between hitters to pull bats.
Now a durable, All-Northwestern 3A/4A Conference backstop, Smith said he’s excited about the chance to continue his career on the diamond as part of a solid Bulldogs program.
“I’m really excited,” Smith said. “Wingate was a place I’ve always had an interest in, and I was glad it worked out. I feel like it was a good fit, with the distance away from home, the atmosphere around the school and the winning tradition they have. It just felt like it was the right fit for me.
“It’s a great university and as I got to know the coaches, I really liked everything about them.”
His father agreed.
“We’re tickled to death,” said Coach Smith. “Things really came together. They were looking for a 2019 catcher, and they were going to sign one, and I think Kell came along at the right time and place. It was about a month-long recruiting process, and it came together. It’s a great academic school and they have great athletic programs across the board, not just baseball.”
The baseball Bulldogs are getting a solid catching prospect.
Smith, a two-year starter, earned all-conference honors as a junior last year. He batted .284 with an on-base percentage of .478, both numbers good enough for third on the team. He was second on the squad with 17 hits and 21 walks. Smith logged 159 innings behind the plate, allowing just four passed balls and throwing out 33 percent (11 of 33) of would-be base-stealers.
As a sophomore, Smith hit .277 and led the team with 18 RBIs. He caught 165 innings with 10 passed balls, throwing out 15 of 32 runners.
Coach Smith said Kell’s work ethic and love for the game have led to consistent improvements in the youngster’s game.
“We talk about guys that are in our program and whether they like baseball, love baseball or live baseball, and where do you fit into that?” said the 11th-year head coach. “Kell is one that since he knew what baseball was, he lived baseball. He was always on the field. I would stop and pick him up from daycare because he wanted to be on the field every day.
“He always was a Titan. He didn’t ever tell anybody he played for P.G. (Pleasant Gardens). He was always, ‘I play for the Titans.’ Those guys were his heroes, the guys who wore the uniform when he was 4, 5, 6. Now, to see him as a senior is special.”
The younger Smith, who carries a high grade-point average and is a member of the National Honor Society, said making an early decision on college took a load off his mind.
“It’s definitely a relief to know things are taken care of,” he said. “It allows for a little more focus on the business you’ve got to take care of coming up to the season and then through the season.”
Between now and then, Smith will devote a large chunk of his time to getting better on the field.
“He’s a leader,” said Coach Smith. “With his work ethic, he’s a guy other kids, especially young ones, can see he works hard, whether it’s in the summer, taking balls off the machine and blocking, in the cage swinging. He’s always working on his game.
“He receives and blocks the ball well, and throwing-wise, it’s just gotten better and better every year and now he throws it really well. Offensively, he’s always trying to get better.”
Both the Titans and the Bulldogs will be glad to hear that.
Notes: Wingate is coming off a 34-19 season…The Bulldogs went 17-10 and finished in second place in the NCAA D-II South Atlantic Conference…The Bulldogs are coached by Jeff Gregory.