With his senior season having ended only three weeks ago and his graduation ceremony taking place only a few short days ago, now would seem like a good time for Bryce England to look back on his high school baseball career.
Since he will be reporting to get started on his college career at Georgia Southern in a little over three more weeks, that seems an extremely short window to do so given how much how much production the Cherokee Bluff outfielder packed into his four seasons with the Bears.
Following a career that started during the second season after Cherokee Bluff opened, England leaves as the school’s all-time career leader in nearly a dozen offensive categories, including hits (123), doubles (33), home runs (31), RBIs (147), walks (93), total bases (249) and OPS (1.323).
Many of those number received a big boost this spring during a 2023 campaign in which he practically rewrote the school single-season record book, setting new marks with a .457 average, 13 homers, 52 RBIs, 11 doubles, a .602 on-base percentage and a 1.037 slugging percentage for an eye-popping 1.639 OPS.
What pleased Cherokee Bluff coach Jeremy Kemp most is the manner in which England achieved those numbers, and how good a teammate and leader he was during the Bears’ record-breaking 28-5 season that included a season-opening 20-game winning streak, a Region 8-4A, Subregion A title and a berth in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“When you get guys who play on that big a level, they sometimes have some baggage,” Kemp said. “Bryce wasn’t like that. He’s an incredibly hard worker, and he didn’t ever try to do too much.”
While the window for England to reflect on his high school career is narrow, the window he had to post the kind of offensive production was in some ways every bit as narrow, which makes his career numbers even more impressive.
The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown limited him to just 13 games during his freshman season in 2020, and even in his three other full seasons, the success he had early limited the number of quality pitches he got to see in his school record in walks.
Nowhere was the latter seen more than this spring, when England was walked 34 times, many of those intentionally by opposing pitchers hoping to figuratively take the bat out of his hands limit the amount of damage he could do.
In one particular subregion game against East Forsyth, he was intentionally passed in all four of his plate appearances, prompting Kemp to make sure that his slugging right fielder kept his emotions in check.
“He and I had a couple of different conversations about that,” Kemp recalled. “Obviously, it is frustrating, but he was able to handle that OK.”
For his part, two thoughts helped England to curb his frustration.
One was taking the conversations he had with Kemp to heart and reminding himself there were other ways he could help his team win by playing solid defense and running the bases well.
“That’s just a huge sign of respect for me,” England said of being pitched around numerous times this season. “Every time I came to bat after that, I just told myself to be ready (in case) they did pitch to me. … I just had to adjust my approach to whatever pitch they’re going to throw, if they’re going to throw.”
The other thing that lessened his frustration was realizing that walking him meant opposing pitchers still had to deal with some equally potent bats hitting behind him, such as fellow senior outfielder Brett House and sophomore infielders K.T. Thompson and Landon Kemp.
And once that trio began to make opponents pay for trying to avoid England, he eventually started to see more hittable pitches.
“Having K.T. and Brett and all them (hitting) behind me, I really wasn’t worried,” England said. “They’re great hitters, and I knew they were going to pick me up either way.”
Of course, those three hitters were only part of the collaboration with his teammates that England shared with his teammates.
In addition to having other strong hitters deeper in the line-up – including his younger brother, freshman shortstop Ethan England – his impressive production wouldn’t have been possible without the help others like third baseman Jacob Vokal, center fielder Ty Corbin and catcher Caleb Miele getting on base ahead of him and giving him a chance to knock them in.
That relationship with his teammates, and the role he and his fellow seniors played in the gradual evolution of the Cherokee Bluff program from new program to a state powerhouse that posted 25 wins or more each of the past three years is one of the things England says he’ll remember most about his high school career.
“It’s a legacy that’s (been) built up,” England said. “I mean, we started from having a chain link fence (around the outfield) and no purple (chairback) seats (behind the plate). And coming back with (the improvement of the facilities and the on-field success) … it shows a lot of what we (in the program) accomplished over the past five years.
“To get as far as we did with what we had at the beginning, and now we’ve had kids come in and play, and some of the (under)classmen had some games under their belt from their freshman year up to now – it’s awfully impressive what the (program) has done.”
England’s attention now turns to the future and playing baseball at a higher level.
While he and Kemp have heard from multiple scouts form major league organizations the past few years, he’s not sure that will necessarily translate into being selected in the 2023 Major League Baseball Draft this summer.
However, with a chance to play in a strong Division I college program like Georgia Southern and many scouts maintaining their interest, England knows he has the opportunity to be drafted and play professionally further in the future in his own hands.
“I don’t think I’ll get drafted (this year),” England said. “I know the (Oakland) A’s have been following me for two years now. They said they’ll continue to watch me at (Georgia) Southern the next two years because if I don’t get drafted this year, I won’t be eligible (again) until my junior year.“I head down there June 16th for school. My goal coming down there is just overall to help the team in any way possible. Depending on who’s already there and what I can do when (the coaches) first see me is really up to them.”