Early in his varsity baseball career, Preston Holcomb wanted to play middle infielder. Sylvania coach Ryan Clark needed him to play catcher.
Holcomb swallowed some initial disappointment and made a commitment to becoming the best catcher the Rams could ask for.
On Wednesday afternoon, Holcomb shared in his commitment to baseball with family, friends and coaches as he signed with Mars Hill University, an NCAA Division II school in Mars Hill, N.C., during a ceremony at Sylvania High School.
Holcomb said becoming the first Sylvania baseball player to be signed above the junior college level felt good.
“It’s showing the hard work that I’ve put in and the hard work that (Clark) has put into me,” Holcomb said. “It just feels surreal.”
When Holcomb visited Mars Hill last month, he was pleased with the campus and the people he met. Of all the schools that had shown interest in him, Holcomb said Mars Hill was the one that showed the most interest.
Holcomb and the Rams finished with an 11-18-1 overall record and a second-round appearance in the AHSAA Class 3A state baseball playoffs this season.
“The finish wasn’t what we wanted, but it was about what we were working toward,” Holcomb said. “I know we finished short but we all knew we left it all out there on the field. To have my teammates with me this season, it’s been the best season I could’ve asked for.”
Holcomb plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, he said.
Clark has been the head coach of Sylvania’s varsity baseball team for four years, coaching a year of junior varsity prior to assuming the head varsity role. He began coaching Holcomb during his eighth-grade season.
“We’re really proud of him,” Clark said. “He’s put forth as much effort as I’ve ever asked him to. He’s a very hard worker and it shows up in the game. He ended up making a name for himself around here as the best catcher around here. Just did a great job of working hard to get to that point.”
Clark said Holcomb took over for the Rams in key situations this season. The coach recalled the team getting in a bind during a series against Plainview with the series tied 1-1. Clark said he’d planned for a different player to pitch Game 3 but gave Holcomb an opportunity to deliver on the mound.
“He shut them down, and Plainview is a great baseball team,” Clark said. “He held them to two runs, had three RBIs himself and we won the game 4-2. He took over that game and really showed what he was all about. That was a turning point to our season when he slingshotted us into the playoffs and helped us get that Game 3 against Plainview.”