By Sue Moore
“I’ve always wanted to play college baseball,” said Ryan Morgan while he signing his letter of intent to play at Kalamazoo College as a pitcher and outfielder. A Vicksburg High School senior, he has grown up on a farm in Fulton and is graduating in the top 10 percent of his class in 2018.
Cole Mallery, Morgan’s catcher on the Bulldog varsity and travel teams, signed his letter of intent to play for Adrian College at the same time as Morgan. That came naturally for both guys as they have grown up together, pitching and catching in Little League, on a travel team for Coach Matt Sheets and for the Bulldogs under Coach Brian Deal.
“These guys are not just great baseball players, they are outstanding individuals,” Deal said. “I’ve coached them through junior varsity and varsity in football and baseball. It’s been great to watch them grow into talented players. This early signing allows them to play 100 miles per hour this spring without having to worry about recruitment and the decision making [of where to go to college]. They are great kids to be around, who come to practice ready to work and get better every day. Morgan is a give-me-the-ball type of guy in a big game. He’s not afraid to fail and wants to compete at all times.”
Both seniors credit Don Henderson with creating their love for the game in the first place. His sons Connor and Adam were of a similar age and all played baseball together on a USA travel team when they were ages 11 and 12. They had a taste of success, becoming state champs for their age group. Keevin O’Neill, Vicksburg high school principal, started this bunch of boys as their coach in Little League where they became all-stars when they were 9 and 10 years old. There are at least five seniors on this year’s varsity who will go on to play in college, Coach Deal said. He expects this team to have an exciting season after finishing 33 and 9 in 2017. “We could be really good, depending on our pitching depth.”
Morgan had an impressive 1.73 earned run average last year and hit well with a .339 batting average. “He does the little things,” Deal said. “The college recruiters liked his hustle on and off the field. He played three sports and was a star wide receiver for the Bulldogs football team in his junior and senior years, meaning he was a well-rounded athlete – which they like.” The icing on the cake was for Morgan’s grandfather, Robert, who graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1962. He played guard on the MIAA team that took first place in the league that year. He was the leading scorer and captain of the team led by Coach Ray Steffen. Ryan’s parents are Michelle and Todd Morgan, who taught him to take care of their animals. He and his brother Colin baked animal treats and were among the original vendors at the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market when it opened in 2010.
Mallery has been Morgan’s catcher all these years and loves the position as the field general. “He needs to have his head in every game, block every pitch down low and keep the ball in front of him. He does that and possesses a strong arm, able to throw out runners at any base,” Deal said. “Morgan has complete confidence in his catcher. They share that competitiveness.”
The on-campus visit to Adrian by Mallery, made for an easy decision as he liked the coach, the campus, the facilities and especially the upper-classmen players on the team that he got to room with. “I want to start as a freshman, but there is no guarantee. I know I’ll have to work for it,” Mallery said. “I’m just happy to be able to continue to play baseball, the sport I love.” He was the starting center and linebacker on defense on Vicksburg’s football team. To get ready for a new challenge, Mallery will spend the winter semester at Vicksburg High School, interning in the athletic department under Mike Roy’s leadership as part of his independent study project in sports management. He will need to wear a shirt and tie each day and work on daily assignments from the athletic director.
“I don’t know what I’m going to major in at Adrian,” Mallery said. “I’ve tried the cop thing like my dad. Maybe business of some sort but I’m open to anything in sports too.” Cole is the son of Jim and Stephanie Mallery and has two brothers. Drew played football at Hillsdale College and Luke participated in club rugby at the University of Michigan. Their dad Jim is Vicksburg’s village manager and formally a captain in the Kalamazoo Police Department. His mom is in-house instructional coach for teachers in the Vicksburg school system and taught at Indian Lake Elementary for many years.
“It was always school and homework first as I had no choice if I wanted to procrastinate,” Cole said. “Practice was something I looked forward to every day since being in Little League.”
Now these guys who have been close friends on and off the field will be playing against each other at their respective schools. They will play in the MIAA conference, Division III, with home and away games against each other come the spring of 2019.