Seven Broncbusters honored at LOI signing ceremony
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
In what felt more like a jovial locker room than the serious austerity of the Hall of Fame room at the Perryman Athletic Complex, seven Garden City Community College baseball players were honored during a signing ceremony Thursday afternoon.
Pitchers Josh Thomas, Chris Bonk, Austin Aspegren, Jake Eikleberry, Bradley Spires and Madison Spencer, and shortstop Tyler Alitz, all announced for which four-year universities they signed a letter of intent to continue their collegiate careers.
"We're very fortunate with these young men right here, coming through the program for two years, and now moving on to four-year schools," head coach Chris Finnegan said to begin the ceremony. "Obviously, it's very important for us, and it's very important for them to continue their career at the collegiate level."
The apparent close-knit group announced to which schools they were signing one-by-one, and explained their reasons and reflected on their time at GCCC.
Thomas is heading to NCAA Division I Murray State University in Murray, Kent., because the Thoroughbreds — as only the baseball team is nicknamed at the school — competes in the prestigious Ohio Valley Conference (OVC).
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-handed reliever transferred to GCCC at the semester of his freshman year, and said, "It was the best decision I ever made. (The coaches) helped me gain velocity and become the pitcher I am today."
Joining Thomas in the OVC will be Alitz, who chose Morehead, Kentucky, State University for similar reasons.
"I picked Morehead State mostly because it was Division I," the former walk-on who turned into perhaps the best all-around player for the Busters this season said. "They play a lot of SEC schools, so that pretty much made my decision, to play against top competition.
Alitz settled on the Eagles when he saw them beat SEC power Kentucky one night this season.
When asked how he developed from a walk-on second baseman his freshman season to a star shortstop, Alitz said, "A lot of hard work, gaining some weight, and maturing a lot."
Finnegan interjected with, "I'd like to beg to differ on the maturity part," which garnered a laugh from the packed room.
Meanwhile, right-handed starter Chris Bonk said he chose Hofstra University, a private Division I university in Hempstead, N.Y., because of its reputation in the classroom and on the diamond.
"At Hofstra, it just felt like home, and also, combined being a very prestigious academic institution while also being in an elite mid-major conference (Colonial Athletic Associated," the 6-4, 210-pounder said.
Bonk also noted the progress he's made during his two seasons at GCCC.
"As everyone that's been here with me for two years can attest, I've progressed a lot from the first fall," he said with a sheepish grin. "But basically, I just came in as just the raw arm without pitch ability, and then basically came here and learned how to pitch."
Left-hander Eikleberry said he was a raw product both on the mound and in the classroom when came to GCCC.
"I've loved every minute here," he said. "I came in not having a cluse about anything, and I'm leaving knowing a little bit. I did get a little better, both in the classroom and regular life, and on the field."
Now, the Byers, Colo., native is headed to Emporia State University, which he chose over Missouri Western, in St. Joseph, Mo., and Metro State in Denver, Colo.
"I don't really care for the big cities," the 6-3, 225-pound pitcher said with a country drawl and a camouflage Busters hat on his head, "so I kind of shied away from Denver and Kansas City."
Fellow staff mate Spires will also stay in Kansas, as he chose Fort Hays State to continue his career despite struggling on the mound for the first time in his career this year.
"I didn't get to pitch much this past year, because I couldn't throw strikes, so when Fort Hays offered me and gave me a chance to be a No. 1, No. 2 arm, that was the biggest thing for me," the transer from the University of South Carolina, Aiken, said. "I had another chance to pitch for two more years, so I said I was in."
Spencer also had a chance to stay in Kansas, but turned down Kansas Wesleyan University in favor of NAIA school Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City.
"I picked the school because it's more of a Christian-oriented school," the Evans, Ga., native said. "They have chapels throughout the day, so that was a big thing for me. I wanted something where I could go for faith, too, but also play baseball."
The right-hander overcame thoracic outlet syndrome in his pitching arm during his freshman year, and became a steady presence out of the bullpen for the Busters this season.
Finally, submarine right-hander Aspegren announced he was walking on at Arkansas State University after a quick recruitment process.
"They never saw me pitch, I've never seen the campus, nothing, it's just a DI offer, and I've got to go in and prove to everybody that I can do what I know I can, and everbody here knows I can do," the Omaha, Neb., native said.
Aspegren came to GCCC with a traditional over-the-top delivery, but he wasn't producing the way he would have liked.
So Finnegan suggested he drop down to his current submarinse style of pitching, and Aspegren bought in. He underwent a several month process and turned himself into the most reliable and durable arm out of the bullpen for the Busters this season.
But his unorthodox motion will still drive Aspegren to have a chip on his shoulder.
"I thank God every day for this dude (Finnegan) to pull me aside and make me do that because it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me," he said about his style. "Absolutely, going to that level I'm going to have a chip on my shoulder because I'm walking on."
During all seven announcements, each player spoke solemnly about how much GCCC and the coaches meant to them, and spoke with great excitement about what lies ahead.
But all seven of them also kept it light, drawing laughs at their own or each other's expense.
Or was it eight?
Also honored was second baseman Zach Barton, who missed the ceremony, and was therefore light-heartedly mocked as well, to attend his brother's graduation.
But it was also evident that the group truly cares for one another.
"Our first fall (together) was pretty rough," Bonk explained about how the group became so close. "Everyone was getting adjusted to college ball, the game, the speed, everything. And then to grow as a team and go back to Wichita (Region VI tournament) two years in a row, especially this year to contend out there, is really special.
"I think all of us signing and going places just shows that the system works here — bring people in, iron out all the rough edges, and bring out real ballplayers."
As a group, they won 66 games over two years, competed in the Region VI Championship tournament twice, and made it to the final four in Wichita this season.
"I know I'm going to miss these guys," Spires said.
Note: This same sophomore class had already seen pitcher Garrett Bryant sign a letter of intent to play at Louisiana Tech University before the season began, as well as third baseman Cale Dineen sign at Dayton University. Bryant suffered a traumatic brain injury before the season began but is well on track to make a full recovery and attend Louisiana Tech next spring. Dineen suffered a fractured bone in his leg late in the season, but also is expected to make a full recovery in time to play next season at Dayton.