Logan Fugate, Ooltewah’s No. 1 pitcher and second-leading hitter during the 2014 season, signed a scholarship on Monday to play baseball at Cleveland State Community College.
Fugate becomes the third Owls senior to sign a grant – Brody Binder will attend Troy University and Kyle Kapherr is going to Carson-Newman.
“I knew I wanted to go to junior college because I feel like I need to get bigger and stronger,” Fugate, a left-handed pitcher, said Tuesday afternoon. “Cleveland State was about the only school that talked to me. I heard a lot of good things about their coach (Mike Policastro) and program and pretty much knew what they needed for next season.
“I’m ecstatic for this opportunity. Last season didn’t pan out like we thought it would and I was devastated. I was really hoping for a chance to play at the next level.”
Fugate was the Owls’ “Monday starter” this past season for coach Brian Hitchcox, which meant he normally pitched against the opposing team’s top pitcher in District 5-AAA play.
Fugate didn’t disappoint.
He appeared in eight games and posted an 8-2 record with a sparkling 1.02 ERA. Fugate worked 48 innings and gave up 34 hits and seven unearned runs. He struck out 56 and walked 16.
As a junior, Fugate pitched against some of Ooltewah’s toughest non-district foes, such as Middle Tennessee powers Tullahoma and Oakland.
“And he held his own against those teams,” Hitchcox said.
While Fugate is also an outstanding center fielder, the 18-year-old will likely get an early shot on the mound with the Cougars, who went 27-23 this past season and compete in the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association.
“They need a left-handed pitcher so that’s what I’m looking forward to doing early on,” Fugate said. “They’re in good shape in the outfield.”
Fugate’s summer coach, George Koontz, lined up a bullpen throwing session for Fugate and Policastro was there to see him. The Cougars’ coach, who just completed his 18th season and has a 610-429 record, liked what he saw and invited Fugate back for an open tryout.
After the workout Fugate met with Policastro and the two worked out a scholarship plan.
“I told him I’d love to play for him at Cleveland State and he told me he would send the papers to me in a few days,” Fugate said. “I got the papers and signed Monday.”
Policastro, whose Cougars ended their season with two losses to Motlow State in the TCCAA Region 7 tournament, agrees that Fugate’s pitching prowess may get him on the mound before he plays in the outfield. However, the coach clearly likes Fugate’s versatility.
“In Logan’s case, a left-handed pitcher is always at a premium,” said Policastro, who played and later coached at Tennessee Wesleyan College – at 23 he was one of the nation’s youngest coached when hired at TWC in 1985. “He throws in the mid-80s and has a good breaking ball. Right now we’re looking at him as a pitcher, but we’re going to play it by ear about him playing a position. He’s good enough to do both.”
Fugate went 38-for-94 this season – the hit breakdown was: 25 singles, 10 doubles, one triple and two homers – for a .404 batting average. He drove in 18 runs, scored 38 and struck out just 13 times.
Hitchcox saw much progress from Fugate from the time he arrived at Ooltewah as a “raw hitter and pitcher” to the time he finished his senior season.
Halfway through his sophomore year Fugate earned a spot in the outfield on a team that won the district tournament and lost to Warren County in the Region 3-AAA semifinals.
At that time Fugate hit near the bottom of the lineup and got in a couple “good outings on the mound,” Hitchcox said.
Hitchcox’s willingness to expand Fugate’s role for the Owls came quickly in 2013, giving him a steady starting outfield job and the role of non-district mound ace.
“He was batting leadoff by that time, too,” Hitchcox said. “He had a really good year. And we knew coming into this year he would be our shutdown, number one guy, hit at the top of the order and be our leader on the field for sure.”
Now, Fugate has a chance to hold those same roles with the Cougars, who have won one Eastern Division title, had eight second-place finishes and two state and region runner-up finishes in 1996 and 2005.
Policastro is confident Fugate has the skills to become a solid contributor to the Cougars program and gives him a good chance on making an impact on the program right away.
“We had a chance to see him a couple of times during the season,” the coach said. “He’s athletic and I liked him as a two-way player. We were able to bear down on him in the tryout and his physical tools are really good. Logan plays with a passion and I always like that in a player.
“He’s what we’re looking for. Once we get him in camp and over an extended period of time we’re probably going to like him more and appreciate him more.”
Policastro has coached 20 players who have gone on to play professional baseball and more than 200 who have signed four-year scholarships.
So, he knows good, young talent when he sees it.
Fugate is quick to credit Hitchcox with his overall improvement after four years in the program.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be coached by anyone else,” Fugate said. “He taught me more baseball than anyone ever will and he’s a great person. As a freshman I knew the basics of baseball. But the little things he taught me were amazing.”
Fugate becomes the fourth local player from District 5-AAA to sign this spring with Cleveland State, joining Soddy-Daisy teammates Christian Amos, Ryan Mahaffey and Caden Ricketts.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)