The pickings are getting slimmer for college scouts who plan to come to Oxford baseball games in the spring in search of pitching talent.
Sunday, right-hander Jackson Stephens became the third member of the Yellow Jackets’ rotation to commit to sign a college scholarship when he gave a verbal pledge to the University of Alabama.
Stephens joins classmates Tucker Simpson, who’s been committed to Georgia Tech since he was a sophomore, and Zach Lovvorn, a recent Samford commit, in making his intentions known early.
“I had made my decision a while ago that I wanted to be a part of Alabama,” Stephens said. “I had thought about it a long time, prayed about it and talked it over with my family. I figured I needed to go ahead and tell them. So, I called them up.”
Stephens, who’s also the starting quarterback at Oxford and guard on the basketball team, chose the Crimson Tide over offers from UAB and South Alabama, where he could’ve had the opportunity to play both football and baseball.
Auburn and Florida also came in late, extending offers just this past week.
“That’s what made my decision so hard,” said Stephens, who also had received interest from the likes of Florida State and North Carolina for his services on the diamond. “But after my last visit there this past weekend, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
As a junior this past spring, Stephens went 7-1 with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings and carried a 1.04 earned run average on his way to being chosen as a first-team selection to the Class 6A all-state squad. He was also a first-team pick to The Star’s Calhoun Class 4A-6A All-Calhoun County and Diamond Dazzlers squad.
He’ll be met by at least one familiar face when he heads to Tuscaloosa next fall. Former Oxford standout Trey Pilkington is set to enter his junior season at Alabama. Stephens also won’t be heading to The Capstone alone. Teammate Mathew Goodson, the Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 6A Hitter of the Year this past season, is also committed to the Tide.
“I just love Alabama,” Stephens said. “It’s a plus to have teammates you know there. I know a lot of the other guys on the team and the guys that will be coming in with my class but I didn’t base my decision off that.”
Stephens’ decision comes at the close of a week where he had a good showing in a doubleheader at the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s annual North-South game as part of All-Star Sports Week in Montgomery. Stephens pitched one shutout inning as the North went on to win both games. He’s had a productive summer both hitting and pitching playing on the summer travel circuit with Team Bases Loaded out of Birmingham.
His choice also comes nearly two weeks before the start of football practice. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder will be expected to lead a Yellow Jackets squad which includes several high-level Division I recruits deep into the playoffs in his third year as a starter. Oxford finished 7-5 last season, losing in a tightly contested game on the road in the second round of the playoffs to Region 7 rival Gadsden City.
Stephens said he was able to get a lot off his chest by committing but added he would’ve been able to focus on football and basketball in the winter had he committed or not.
“This is just a blessing for me to be there (at Alabama),” he said. “This really was the best decision for me,” he said. “At Alabama, the coaches are so nice. I told them to work me so I can become a better player.”