Within a matter of days after Ooltewah’s Kevin Dupree backed off a non-binding commitment to the University of Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State University assistant baseball coach Jim McGuire was on the phone talking to the Owls’ star pitcher/first baseman.
Dupree was impressed, to say the least.
“When they called so soon after I decommitted, it surprised me,” Dupree said. “I didn’t know word traveled that fast.”
So, when the big left-hander visited the MTSU campus this past weekend it was no surprise that before Dupree left Murfreesboro he made a commitment to McGuire, a long-time Blue Raiders assistant who was elevated to head coach when Steve Peterson retired after 25 years at the helm.
Dupree's commitment is the first for McGuire.
“I know they’ve always had a solid program and coach Peterson had been there a long time and did a great job,” Dupree said. “I was really hoping coach McGuire would get that job.”
Once he was no longer considering Tennessee’s Vols, Dupree reopened his recruitment with visits to UNC-Charlotte and David Lipscomb in Nashville.
Dupree began a two-day visit to MTSU last Thursday, met with coaches and, along with other members of the baseball team, later attended the Blue Raiders’ season-opening football game against McNeese State at Floyd.
The following day Dupree again met with McGuire and his two new assistants – Scott Hall, who came from Belmont, and Skylar Meade, who was formerly at Eastern Illinois – and spoke with an academic advisor before touring more of the campus and ending with a final meeting with McGuire.
“That’s when I committed to him,” Dupree said. “The coaches were great and I feel like I can learn from them. I had talked to coach McGuire a couple of times on the phone before my visit and I know he’s a super guy.”
What were his thoughts at the time he committed to MTSU?
“My parents teach me all the time that God has a plan and I guess UT wasn’t a part of that plan,” the 17-year-old Dupree said. “When I went over to MTSU it felt like home right away. I thought that’s where God wants me to be.
“(Committing) was a huge relief for me. I had a rough summer with the decommittment from Tennessee and it was very stressful. Deciding on MTSU was a huge weight off my chest.”
Dupree, who will be given a chance to be a two-way player for the Blue Raiders, said he didn’t feel like he had to make a decision prior to his season with coach Brian Hitchcox’s Owls, but it’s nice to have his college baseball future settled.
Dupree will sign scholarship papers during the national early signing period in November.
“When I would commit or sign depended on how comfortable I felt at the time,” Dupree said. “This MTSU thing came up and I didn’t think I could pass it up. I felt that was the place for me. They really wanted me and I liked it there.”
Dupree, who spent three days in Cary, N.C., in late August trying to make the lastcut for USA Baseball’s 2013 18-under National Team (he’s yet to receive final word on his status), had a sterling junior season helping Ooltewah to a District 5-AAA runner-up finish in the regular season, district tournament title and a berth in the Region 3-AAA semifinals. The Owls fell to Warren County, 4-3, in nine innings and finished 24-13.
“Kevin was our number one district starter as a sophomore and junior and he was hitting in the middle of the lineup halfway through his freshman year,” Hitchcox said. “He’s done pretty much all you can ask a guy to do. He’s been one of the most consistent I’ve had on the mound. He played a solid first base last year. Kevin works it, plays good defense and led our team with six home runs.”
As a junior, Dupree posted a 5-4 record with a stingy 1.92 ERA, including seven complete games, two shutouts and 63 strikeouts in 54 innings.
Hitchcox said Dupree’s pitching numbers could have been more impressive if not for bad-luck games over the past two years.
“He’s pitched in some tough-luck games,” Hitchcox said. “His career ERA is under 2.5 but his record is around .500, or a little above. He’s always taking the ball, doing a good job and hasn’t blamed others or gotten down on himself for not having more to show for it.”
Dupree hit .303 with seven doubles, one triple and 27 RBIs. He displayed a disciplined hitter’s eye by drawing 25 walks.
Hitchcox foresees Dupree continuing his strong on-field play with the Blue Raiders.
“I think MTSU is a great fit for him and he’ll have a chance to be a two-way player,” Hitchcox said. “They’re graduating a large senior class (15), so he’ll get a chance to go in with a new group and compete for playing time right away. It’s a good opportunity because that program is headed in the right direction with coach McGuire.”
Dupree is the third Ooltewah player to make a college baseball commitment since last seasons’ one-run loss to Warren County.
Left-handed pitcher Jackson McClain is going to Yale and right-hander Zach Thompson has committed to Tennessee Tech.
Three other members of the Owls’ 2012 team already have signed college grants – catcher/infielder T.J. Binder with Troy, pitcher/infielder Cody Rhinehart with Bryan and outfielder Drew Toth with Tennessee Tech.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)