GLENHAYES, W.Va. - For the first time in the schools history, two Tolsia High School baseball graduating seniors have signed to play the sport in college in the same year after Austin Bailey signed his National Letter of Intent Wednesday to play baseball at Alice Lloyd College next year.
"It's never happened before. I've been here four years and it hasn't happened under me and I've talked with several other people and nobody can recall it happening (at Tolsia)," baseball coach Jeff Wallace said.
To take it one step further, the two will play on the same team in college. Bailey will join high school teammate Eric Williams on the Eagles roster for next fall.
Williams signed early in May and while Bailey's big day came nearly a month later, but the later may never have occurred had it not been for the Alice Lloyd coaching staff coming to Tolsia for Williams.
Bailey said it's been his goal since he was young to play baseball for the rest of his life but he didn't know how to approach his recruitment process, and had minimal help along the way. In turn, his college career almost never began.
"I didn't know how to engage. Eric's parents were really good in helping him in the recruiting process, but I had to vouch for myself," Bailey said. "The biggest thing was that I had the opportunity to talk to the coaching staff when they came here for Eric's signing, that was the biggest step into helping me get to this point."
He and Eagles' head coach Scott Cornett talked on that day and scheduled a workout on campus in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. A few things stuck out to Bailey about the campus during his visit: friendly faces, a supportive coaching staff, and the small town feel he's so accustomed to.
"My whole life I've been in a small town. You know, growing up in Fort Gay and then coming here to Tolsia that has around 400 kids. I like that," the senior said. "Alice Lloyd only has six or seven hundred and I just love the atmosphere."
In terms of success, Bailey and Williams will leave as the winningest group to ever come through the program, and the teammates since eighth grade now have the chance to replicate that success at Alice Lloyd. Cornett said he was impressed with not only the athletic ability of the pair, but also the kind of people they are off the field, which was a major up-side to the signings.
"He's just athletic and seems like a good fit for us," he said of Bailey. "He can pitch, play the infield, and do different things out there. We're pretty excited about what he could be for us in the future."
"They're both good kids and I've got nothing but good out of them. It's close to home so they can go back if they need to, people from home can come and watch them. They'll be a good fit with us and I'm excited to get them out on the field during fall ball."
Bailey, Williams, and Wallace all came to the program in 2016. The two freshmen and assistant coach joined then-coach Eric Crum in a struggling Rebels program. Tolsia has never been recognized as a powerhouse in baseball, but the state of the program was far worse than what met the eye. Losses, low numbers, and lack of discipline were the steepest issues on the downhill slope that Tolsia seemed to be going down - or were near the bottom of.
The year Wallace joined as an assistant coach, the rising seniors on the team sported an overall record of 2-88, but Bailey and Williams - both incoming freshmen - were eager to get to work with Wallace and change the direction of the program. But in order to add wins, the attitude in the dugout had to change.
"I have to give coach (Eric) Crum kudos there because he really instilled some discipline in the kids. He's a football coach so he knows how to do that and be effective with it, " Wallace said. "We had people that wouldn't play us because of the way the team had acted in previous years and when that foolishness was taken out of the program it changed things."
Tolsia won nine games that year and fifteen the following season before Crum left his position as baseball coach, but continued to coach the Tolsia football team. Wallace filled the vacancy and in his first season at the helm (Bailey and Williams junior year), the Rebels posted a program record 16 wins in 2018.
The upward trend set the scene for a classic ending to the high school careers of two four-year starters as the Rebels looked to keep momentum moving forward but a rigorous schedule in 2019 yielded just five wins to twenty-four losses.
The schedule included road contests with triple-A teams Huntington High and Nitro, a home game with the Highlanders, a trip to Madison to face the Scott Skyhawks in class double-A, and a double header at West Carter, a tough opponent out of Kentucky's 16th Region. Tolsia was outscored 115-13 in those contests. The wins came against Wayne, a double-header sweep of Hannan, Rose Hill Christian School (in Ashland) and Phelps, KY.
"It was brutal, but more than anything it was to say, 'Hey, we're here and are going to play,'" second year coach Wallace said and added that he and the coaches are still trying to mend relationships with other programs which had been severed before he and Crum were around - and they have had some success with that.
"We'll play anybody."
The overall record didn't impact individual performances for Williams and Bailey as the former was a second team WV Class-A All-State selection and Bailey was named Special Honorable mention. Teammate Carson Stuart was given Honorable mention recognition also. It was the first time in program history that three individuals had been mentioned in the All-State rankings in the same year.
"It's getting better. The group of kids that graduated last year had a big part in getting us to where we are but Austin and Eric (Bailey) were tremendous for us."