Cullman baseball players sign with Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Troy

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Johnny Thornton

Left to right, Noah Fondren, Carter Bowen, Jacob Heatherly, Owen Lovell and Levi Thomas

CULLMAN – Five Cullman High School seniors have spent wonderful times together on the baseball diamond for the past two years. Each added another moment he will cherish for the rest of his life on Wednesday afternoon inside Tillman Hall.

These five members of one of the best programs in the state, with a championship in 2015 and a runner-up finish last May, signed letters of intent today, the first day in the fall that NCAA schools allow student-athletes, aside from football, to change their verbal commitments into signed scholarships with the schools of their choice.

Pitcher Jacob Heatherly and infielder Noah Fondren signed with the University of Alabama, pitcher-infielder Carter Bowen put his name to an Auburn University scholarship, first baseman-pitcher Owen Lovell is bond for Mississippi State and pitcher Levi Thomas will be going to Troy University after they finish their Bearcat careers next May.

Cullman baseball coach Brent Patterson described it as a celebration for the five, showing how hard work can be rewarded.

"I told a lot of people what great young men they are. All are humble, unselfish, don't take their gifts for granted. They live the right way," said Patterson.

All have seen the thrill of victory and the unfortunate cost of defeat at the highest level in Alabama High School Athletic Association baseball.

The five were members of the Class 6A state championship team as sophomores in 2015 and had to accept the runner-up trophy in the spring of 2016 to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa.

All are delighted with the opportunities for their futures following high school, but each feels he has unfinished business in the quest to win another state crown for Cullman High School.

"We are glad to get this out of the way and focus on winning another state title," Fondren said. "I am blessed for this moment. I have worked to get to this point as far as my future is concerned."

"This is a great opportunity," Bowen said. "I am very blessed God has put me in this position. It's a dream come true."

Each player brings impressive statistics into his senior year for the Bearcats. Bowen has posted 10 wins in his career and 10 saves when he is not playing second base. He has compiled a 2.1 earned run average.

The moment was special for his father, former Cullman coach Bryan Bowen, who played collegiate baseball at Wallace State Community College and was a part of the school's first ever state championship and World Series team in 1992.

Heatherly has a 2.20 ERA with 188 strikeouts. The senior was an Under Armour All-American and a Perfect Game All-American.

"This is fantastic," Heatherly stated. "This is the beginning. We want to get ready for the spring and to go and win another state title."

Fondren goes into 2017 after having been All-State as a sophomore and the MVP when the Bearcats won the crown in 2015, beating Pelham two games to one. He has 137 career varsity hits.

Lovell was recognized as Mr. Baseball this past season by the Alabama Sportswriters’ Association. He has 196 career hits, a .406 batting average, 189 runs batted in and a school record 40 home runs. Lovell was recognized as a Louisville Slugger All-American and played in the Alabama High School All-Star series during the summer at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery.

Lovell's father, too, was a collegiate player. Donovan played for Dwight Tucker during the mid-1980s with Wallace State.

Thomas has a career earned run average of 1.60. At the plate, the future Troy Trojan has a .321 average, and a .400 on base percentage with 39 runs scored and 34 runs driven in.

Patterson is pleased that these five excel in different positions, from the mound, to the infield, the outfield and at the plate. "It's nice to roll out good players at every spot on the field."

Lovell showed his ability back last April when he made a diving catch in the bottom of the seventh inning in a game at Hartselle that clinched the regular season area championship for the Bearcats and knocked Decatur out of a postseason bid at the same time.

Playing together for a very long time has enabled this group to create great chemistry. "These are my brothers," Fondren said.

Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Troy do face each other in the 2017 season. The Crimson Tide, Tigers and Bulldogs are locked up in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.

Troy competes in the Sun Belt Conference. There's no doubt Heatherly, Fondren, Bowen, Lovell and Thomas would love to see their collegiate teams face each other once they arrive at the respective campusws in the fall of 2017 and get into NCAA baseball in the spring of 2018.