Prep Baseball: Britt to Mars Hill
By Mike London
Alex Britt chose opportunity over world-class facilities.
Britt, a Salisbury graduate who made two all-county baseball teams and lots of honor rolls, is a late addition to Mars Hill’s recruiting class.
“They called me late, but I just kind of got a great offer right off the bat,” Britt said.
Since February, Britt had been earmarked for Tusculum, but nothing was written in ink. Mars Hill, which competes with Tusculum and Catawba in the South Atlantic Conference, changed his mind with a late push and a generous offer.
Britt, a line-drive hitter and a fine right-handed pitcher, fell head over heels for Tusculum when he visited the Tennessee school.
Tusculum is easy to fall in love with. Its athletic facilities are spectacular for Division II, and one of them is shiny Pioneer Field, which was constructed to hold 2,500 baseball fans in 2004.
Pioneer players welcomed Britt cordially to their locker room and cheerful coaches guaranteed him a roster spot, but there was no hint of a partial scholarship offer.
As Britt’s senior season whizzed by and no one from Tusculum made the long journey to watch him pitch, the unspoken message may as well have been posted on a neon billboard: “We’d love to have you on the team, but you’re not a priority for us.”
That’s not knocking Tusculum. Britt is a very good player. But with its fantastic facilities and strong tradition, Tusculum has the opportunity to recruit blue-chippers with even better scrapbooks than Britt’s.
Britt isn’t a fast runner ó his Salisbury teammates jokingly called him “Flash” ó but everything else, including his build, his attitude and his report card, is positive.
He was a four-year infielder and two-year pitcher for the Hornets, who had Phillip Hilliard, Lee Dupre and Travis Johnson available to hurl his first two seasons.
At the plate, Britt accumulated 101 career hits, knocked in 73 runs, whacked 21 doubles and batted .345.
In the field, he had the strong arm and sure hands to play third base or shortstop.
On the mound, he was 10-7 with 123 strikeouts, while taking on Salisbury’s toughest opponent of the week.
Mostly he was a bulldog.
Salisbury played huge CCC games the last two years against Ledford. Coach Scott Maddox handed Britt the ball four times and never had to ask for it back. Britt threw four complete games and won twice, including a 10-strikeout gem against the Panthers his junior year.
Britt struck out 74 batters in 632/3 innings his senior year and had a 6-3 record, but his batting average dipped from .458 to .368. Blame it on the recruiting process.
“I think every kid would like to be signed their junior year, but that’s not gonna happen,” Maddox said. “The unsigned senior tries not to worry about it, but he can’t help but think about it. I don’t think Alex was never discouraged, but it had to affect him some.”
After Britt made the final mound start of his high school career ó 11 strikeouts in a playoff rout of East Lincoln ó he was still convinced he was headed to Tusculum.
“It’s not like Tusculum didn’t want him ó they did,” Maddox said. “But other people wanted him more. Francis Marion really wanted him. King (an NAIA school in Tennessee) really wanted him.”
And then, Mars Hill really wanted him.
“Mars Hill called me not long ago, said they’d heard a lot about me and asked if I’d come up there to visit,” Britt said. “The only thing was I’d messed up my back, pulled a muscle and couldn’t pitch.”
So he packed up a highlight CD and made the scenic trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains to check out a school located about 15 miles from Asheville.
The trip was worthwhile.
Compared to Tusculum, Mars Hill plays on a sandlot, but old Henderson Field, a notorious hitter’s paradise built to accommodate 200 fans, is scheduled for a major facelift in the near future. The park dimensions will be lengthened to make life better for pitchers. Blueprints also call for more seating, an improved irrigation system and new dugouts, bullpens and batting cages.
While Britt won’t experience luxury right away, Mars Hill made amends with an offer that included a sizeable chunk of baseball money and an academic/athletic package that will cover 60 percent of his expenses.
Mars Hill was a respectable 29-22 this year, but it offers more opportunity and earlier opportunity than Tusculum, which was 41-15 and won the SAC tournament.
Mars Hill may even offer Britt a chance to play some third base, as well as pitch. At Tusculum, he would only have had a chance to contribute on the mound.
“I think I’ve still got some good swings left in me,” said Britt, who has spent countless hours taking cuts in Salisbury’s indoor facility. “They told me I’ll have an opportunity to compete for a chance to hit, and I should pitch right away.”
Hitting and pitching in college is a hard road, but it’s been done.
“Mars Hill has told him it’s difficult to pitch and hit, and I’ve told him it’s difficult, but Alex has the desire to try,” Maddox said. “I know this was a tough decision for him, and it’s a decision every kid kind of has to make on his own, but I think he made a good one. I’m glad Alex was patient when it was very hard to be patient. At Tusculum, he was probably gonna sit a couple of years. At Mars Hill, he should get opportunities earlier.”
Mars Hill’s enthusiasm won over Britt as much as anything. When he pitched six shutout innings for Salisbury in a Palomino League game last week, he was delighted to see Mars Hill pitching coach Aaron Rembert in the crowd.
Rembert and Salisbury pitching coach Justin Morgan were opponents in the Big South Conference when Rembert was at UNC Asheville and Morgan was at Radford, and they had a good time talking about Britt.
Britt registered mostly 86s and 87s on Rembert’s radar gun, and his fastball was sweeping away from right-handed hitters. His curveball, which improved last summer when he worked in relief for the Rowan County American Legion team, broke sharply.
“Mars Hill really likes Alex’s arm slot, and his velocity surprised their coach a little bit,” Maddox said. “Plus, he made the best play of his life at shortstop in the second game of the doubleheader. Alex just has a knack for being in the right place.”
Sounds like Britt will also be in the right place this fall.
“If Alex doesn’t make it, it won’t be from lack of effort,” Maddox said. “He’ll do all that they ask, and then he’ll do some extra besides. That’s the way he’s always done things.”