Andrew Beavers signs with Milligan

McMinn County’s Andrew Beavers (seated center) signs a letter of intent to continue his education and baseball career at Milligan University in Elizabethton during a ceremony Thursday at McMinn County High School. Seated with Beavers are Adam Beavers, father, and Tara Crisp, mother. Standing, from left: McMinn head coach Matt Ray; McMinn assistant coach Rodney Biddle; McMinn assistant coach Adam Ray; Baylee Crisp, sister; and Crockett Shamblin, stepfather-to-be.

Andrew Beavers saw an opportunity to excel academically and athletically at Milligan University, and it was too good for the McMinn County senior to pass up.

A two-sport standout his four years at McMinn, Beavers will continue his baseball career and his education at the school in Elizabethton, after signing his letter of intent during a ceremony Thursday at McMinn County High School.

Beavers, who also played basketball for the Cherokees, also received recruiting interest in baseball from a couple of schools in North Carolina — Carolina University in Winston-Salem and Barton College in Wilson. But Milligan is where Beavers felt most at home.

“The environment up there. It’s such a small place. I don’t want to go somewhere where the teacher wouldn’t know my name, or a professor,” said Beavers, who plans to major in mechanical engineering. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could get help and excel in school and on the field. And when I went up there and toured the place, the coaches really didn’t talk about baseball. They talked about the school and what offers the school can give me. And then they mentioned the baseball, and that just really hooked me on Milligan.”

In addition, Milligan is also where Beavers sees an opportunity to perhaps win the starting shortstop job right away.

“When he (head coach Skyler Barnett) first talked to me about the baseball program, it intrigued me because he said I have a good shot, if I came in and worked as soon as I got there, at possibly starting my freshman year,” Beavers said. “And that’s what I really liked about that. Milligan’s future team, they’re pretty young for a college team, and I think their two starting shortstops were a freshman and a sophomore, so I feel like I have a good shot to come in and compete for it.”

Milligan is an Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) opponent of Tennessee Wesleyan. The Buffaloes hosted TWU this past season, so they will travel to Athens next spring — giving Beavers even more motivation to get on the field his freshman year.

The Buffaloes finished fourth in the AAC regular-season standings this spring and were one of only three baseball teams in the league to win a game against the Bulldogs.

“I’m really looking forward to that, because they (TWU) are really good,” said Beavers of a potential trip back to his hometown. “But I feel like this team can compete with them.”

Beavers has been a key player all four years for McMinn baseball, including this season’s historic run to the program’s first-ever TSSAA state tournament — a memory he will always cherish.

“That was honestly one of the highlights of playing all four of my years here, because we had the team to do it,” Beavers said. “And I feel like just the way the coaches said, they always kept it in their heads and said, ‘Y’all, we’re so many games away from getting there.’ And we just put the work in and did it.”

After a slow start to his senior season at the plate, Beavers built his batting average back up to .279 and his on-base percentage to .380, good for second and third on the team, respectively. Beavers’ 29 hits, which includes four doubles and a home run, were second on the Cherokees this year.

At shortstop this season, where he has played all four years, Beavers held a .871 fielding percentage with 54 assists and 34 putouts out of 101 total chances and enacted nine double plays.

“He’s definitely been a contributor all four years,” said McMinn coach Matt Ray. “Early on, we always knew Andrew was going to be our shortstop here. You’ve always got to have a solid middle, and he has helped solidify that for us. He has athleticism, he knows the game, and just an all-around good dude to have on your team. He’s been very enjoyable to coach, to be around, and he’s been a big asset to us all four years.

“And this year, he started out a little bit slow, but he figured it out and he turned out to be a huge part offensively and defensively. He was our guy offensively, played great shortstop, and I don’t know that it would’ve been the same type of year without him.”

Beavers’ role offensively became more vital when McMinn’s lead-off to begin the season, Gavin Peterson, sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. Beavers stepped up to eventually lock down the Cherokees’ lead-off spot in the batting order, and he came up with some critical hitting performances during the postseason.

Beavers hit 3-4 in McMinn’s District 5-AAA tournament win over Cleveland that sent the Tribe to region play for the first time since 2009, set the tone with a lead-off double during the Region 3-AAA semifinals win at Cookeville, and came up with a hard ground ball in the sixth inning that led to what was eventually McMinn’s winning run in the sectional game against Stewarts Creek, yielding the Cherokees’ state tournament berth.

“His offensive production was great,” Ray said. “I can’t recall many games that he didn’t do something for us offensively. And that’s where we were lacking this year, and he stepped up and was huge for us.”

And after dividing his attention between baseball and basketball in high school, Beavers will get to devote all his energy to baseball at Milligan, which he believes will help him improve.

“I feel it will help a lot because usually, since my freshman year, I’d have to focus on one and then take like a week break or probably just have to jump straight into baseball after basketball,” Beavers said. “This time, I can just focus on one and just put all my stuff toward that one sport.”

And Ray is looking forward to hearing of Beavers’ success, now that he gets to zone in on baseball entirely.

“This goes with any two-sport guy. When you’re splitting your time between multiple sports, it’s hard to focus in on the things you need to work on to be a better player,” Ray said. “But at the collegiate level, when his sole focus is on baseball, I think he has a very high ceiling. He’s got the skills, he’s got the want-to, and when he gets those reps, he’s going to be a very good player for them.”

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