As the manager of the Winchester Royals of the Valley Baseball League, Clarke County High School head coach Mike Smith writes the names of numerous NCAA Division I players on lineup cards every summer.
When spring arrives, it will be the first time he or any other baseball coach at Clarke County will hand over a lineup card with some Division I flavor to it.
Senior right-handed pitcher Luke Lyman signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Morehead State in Morehead, Ky., on a full scholarship in a ceremony on Wednesday at Clarke County.
Smith believes the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Lyman will be the first person to play at collegiate baseball’s highest level in the school’s history.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play Division I baseball,” said Lyman, who is joining another school with an Eagles nickname at Morehead State, in a phone interview on Thursday.
Morehead State went 24-23 overall and 13-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference last year. The Eagles are led by third-year head coach Mik Aoki, who previously served as head coach at Notre Dame and Boston College.
Lyman can hit 92 miles per hour on the radar gun and also possesses a curveball, changeup and slider.
Smith said Lyman’s got the body type and skills that Division I schools look for, as well as the attitude. Lyman has been a member of Clarke County’s varsity since he was a freshman, and Smith believes the time spent around a group that included his older brother Danny is one of the things that’s helped Lyman over the years.
“He was just mature and focused with his goals,” Smith said. “He’s a good kid, does the right things, and has done everything he’s needed to do to get to this point for his signing.
“Playing summer baseball, playing fall baseball, traveling wherever he needed to travel. He was just very determined from the get-go. His mindset was to play at the next level, and he’s accomplished that. We’re all happy for him.”
Lyman averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning for Clarke County in the spring, recording 29 of them in 15.2 innings while posting a 0.89 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP. Lyman is pitching at an even higher level since then, though.
Smith said Lyman was throwing 85-87 in the spring. But the strength work Lyman has been putting in for a long time resulted in an increase in velocity that caught the attention of a lot of eyes this summer. Lyman said his fastball was sitting between 88 and 92 mph consistently.
“I dedicate my time to working out and getting stronger,” Lyman said.
“The kid’s still growing,” Smith said. “And he does long toss. That’s one of the most important things kids don’t understand, just getting your arm stronger by doing long toss every day. He played in a lot of games, and he just got bigger, stronger, and the velocity picked up and worked out to his benefit, for sure.”
Lyman spent the majority of his summer pitching for the Dirtbags travel team out of Lynchburg. New Morehead State assistant coach Tyler Jackson was previously on the staff at Liberty University, also located in Lynchburg, and Dirtbags coach Mike Cooper’s connection with Jackson eventually led to Morehead State inviting Lyman to campus on Oct. 23.
On that trip, Lyman pitched to eight people over two innings.
Lyman said he received good feedback from Liberty pitching coach Brady Ward.
“He likes how I attack the zone with my fastball, and he liked how my offspeed was when I threw down there,” Lyman said. ‘I really was pounding the zone with my fastball. This summer I’ve been mainly fastball, slider, changeup, but when I was there I threw my curveball really well as well, which really benefited me and helped me get outs.”
Morehead State offered Lyman the scholarship that day, and Lyman gave his verbal commitment the next day.
“It’s a very nice area, and I like the coaching staff,” said Lyman, who is looking to study forestry. “It’s a very good program and I’m looking forward to going down and competing.”
Smith said he’s thankful for the support of his parents Janie and Kevin, Smith, and the Dirtbags for helping him reach this point.
“Every college is looking for pitching,” Smith said. “I think he has a great opportunity as a freshman to go in there and have a chance to play, that’s for sure.”