MELISSA — It would be hard to name a better spot for two high school baseball players to sign their college Letters of Intent to compete at the next level: home plate at their home field on a sun-splashed spring day. That’s exactly what Cardinal standouts Andrew Cole and Tate Whittington did on Wednesday surrounded by family, teammates and coaches at the Melissa Sports Facility.
Whittington, District 11-4A’s Co-MVP in 2017, signed with Cisco College while Cole, the district’s Pitcher of the Year last season, did likewise with East Texas Baptist University.
Cole posted a 1.57 ERA in 58 inning of work during the 2017 regular season with 50 strikeouts. He also pitched the Cards to a clutch Game 2 victory over Decatur in their area round playoff series.
“I just feel great,” Cole said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s one of my dreams that I’ve had. Getting to play baseball at the next level is just amazing for me. It’s great to have my family here with me today.”
Whittington batted .485 in 66 plate appearances last season and pitched the crucial save versus Decatur.
“It’s exciting for what the future holds and what Cisco has for me,” said Whittington, who also starred for the football Cardinals at quarterback, receiver and linebacker. “I’ve always wanted to play D-I baseball and I think this is my route to get there.”
Choosing Cisco, he said, wasn’t difficult.
“I really liked it when I was there. I liked the coaches a lot. I’ve been in contact with them for a while.”
Then there’s the fact that Melissa graduate and former football teammate Gunnar Murphy is there. “That’s a plus,” Whittington said.
“It was definitely an incentive. I’ll be with one of my best buddies down there so it’ll be good.”
The NJCAA Division I Cisco Wranglers compete in the Region V Athletic Conference. Whittington, an outfielder, reliever and utility player for the Cards, said a highlight of his days here has been the relationships he’s formed.
“Some of the best friends I’ve made have all been here in Melissa,” he said. “And some coaches I’ll be friends with and be in contact with the rest of my life.”
Whittington said he’s interested in studying either business or kinesiology and will decide later.
Cole, who also plays third base, pointed to his great-grandfather as having a big influence on his life.
“He’s helped us through a lot and been one of my biggest role models. He’s always been there for me.”
Cole added that seniors throughout his Cardinal playing days taught him a lot about the game and leadership.
As for ETBU, “I just liked the people, I liked the coaches,” Cole said. “It’s a great atmosphere there. And they have nice facilities.”
The NCAA Division III Tigers are members of the American Southwest Conference.
For now, he plans to study business and finance but added that could change.
Cole said highlights for him while at Melissa include playoff runs and being around teammates. “I’ve been here all my life,” he said, “so I’ll probably miss all my friends once I go up there. But I’ll make new ones. I’ll miss the people here and my family.”
Of course, neither player’s Melissa career is yet finished. The Cards are currently battling for a district title, tied for first place with Princeton with four games left.
“We’re going to finish district strong,” Whittington said. “And I feel like we’re going to make a pretty good run in the playoffs. I’m looking forward to it.”