published Friday, September 5th, 2014

Cleveland's Oliver commits to Troy as junior

Catcher Hunter Oliver recently became the fifth Chattanooga Cyclones baseball player in four years to commit to play for Troy University, but the Cleveland High School junior made his decision a historic one.

He is the first commitment for Mark Smartt's head-coaching career at the Sun Belt Conference school in Alabama.

Bobby Pierce is retiring at Troy after the 2015 season and 33 years in college coaching, and Smartt -- his assistant the past 13 years -- already has been designated to take over.

"That's pretty exciting, to be the first for Coach Smartt. I'm real close to Coach Smartt," Oliver said in explaining his early decision. "And having opportunities to play there so much with the Cyclones, and being on that field and getting to know the coaches, it just feels like what's right. And honestly, I couldn't pass up the offer they gave me. It was very large."

Brothers T.J. and Brody Binder from Ooltewah and Lee Gibson from Heritage are Cyclones alumni already at Troy, and Baylor senior Hunter Mercer plans to sign with Pierce's program in November. Their presence added to Oliver's certainty about where he wants to play collegiately.

And he certainly has the tools for NCAA Division I baseball, Cyclones general manager George Koontz said.

"Hunter is one of the most dedicated players I have had the privilege to coach in the 22 years we have operated the Cyclones," Koontz said. "We have been fortunate to coach several catchers who have played D-I baseball and to have Ryan Casteel play four years for the Cyclones, and Hunter has a chance to be better than Ryan defensively and to be as good a hitter, which is saying something as Ryan is currently in Double-A for the Colorado Rockies.

"We consistently get 1.88-1.94 [second] pop times on Hunter in games throwing to second base, which is exceptional for a high school junior and on par with average major league pop times. These are not showcase times -- they are game times and on the bag. Hunter has shown steady progress as a hitter and has drastically improved over the last year, showing plus-power potential."

Oliver started at catcher for Cleveland and coach Ted Carson as a sophomore last spring.

"I'm going to keep working. My dream is to go pro," Oliver said. "I've got two seasons of high school ball left, and I'm going to take advantage of playing with the Cyclones, too. I want to thank my parents and all of my coaches for where I am today."

Among those, he said, were Cyclones instructors David Mead, Aaron Simmons and Ryan Vincent.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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