In the state championship against Conway, senior star Evan Lee stepped up to the plate. A hush falls over the crowd as he prepares his swing. Then, it happened, a pitch falls right into Lee’s wheelhouse. Shortly after his swing, the ball lands safely somewhere in the stands: a home run. As soon as they heard the crack of the ball on the bat, the recently hushed crowd turned its attention to the sunny sky, never expecting the ball to return to ground it came from. There, a future Razorback Baseball player showed the city of Fayetteville what he could do.
Lee led Bryant High school to a 28-2 record, the No. 1 ranked team in the state of Arkansas and the No. 3 ranked team in the U.S., according to Max Preps.
Any winning team has many different keys to its success, and Lee gives plenty of credit to one of Bryant’s major contributors: head coach Kirk Bock.
“The way he has taught me, coming from Bryant, as I move into my college game, it will always stick with me,” Lee said. “I’ll just continue to do the same tendencies and things that we did at Bryant to win baseball games here at Arkansas.”
Bock led Bryant to four state titles in seven years, and the National Federation of State High School Associations made him a recipient of the 2016 National Coach of the Year award.
Lee helped his team win with the strength of his arm, and the strength of his bat. His senior season, he pitched a 0.54 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 52 innings. He followed up that performance on the mound with one equally dominant at the plate, posting a .462 batting average, with five home runs and 31 RBI. For his efforts, he was awarded the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year Award for Arkansas.
His former teammate Dylan Hurt said Lee embraced Bock’s win-first attitude better than anyone he’d ever played with.
“Everyone on our team loved to win, but Evan was just kind of the guy that just hated to lose, and (he) would go out there every day just trying his hardest not to lose,” Hurt said. “He was one of the guys you could trust every game to go out there and give it his all, and really make sure that we came out on top.”
Shortly before attending Arkansas, Lee and his team won the 7A State Championship in the Razorbacks’ own Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. The team beat Conway 5-0 in a game which included a home run from Lee himself.
“When we were going into that game, we kept talking to him about it, how he was going to be playing at this field and that he had to show out for everybody,” Hurt said. “And well, he really did. I think that can really tell you a lot about how he’s going to do there.”
Lee said that game taught him a lot about how it was would help his familiarity with the ballpark, and that it gave him a lot of confidence looking forward to play there again.
“(That game) was huge,” Lee said. “To be able to go out there, you know you’re coming to Arkansas next year, you get familiar with the field, you know all the corners and stuff before you even get here. Just the fact that you had success on that field in high school ball and that you’re about to play on it in college, you know ‘Hey, I’ve had success here before, why not again?’”
The decision to come to the UofA was an easy one, Lee said.
“It was about a 15-minute process,” Lee said. “Coach Jorn, before he retired, and Coach V came and watched me pitch, and they (sent me an offer) that next morning. I told them ‘I’m all in.’
Lee was dedicated to the Hogs long before his offer came in.
“I actually came out of the hospital in a onesie for the Arkansas Razorbacks,” Lee said. “I’ve always been a Razorback. Yes there were options, but I stayed true. That was my dream, to be an Arkansas Razorback baseball player. To be able to live my dream as well as many kids’ and be a role model for them, it was just a no-brainer.”
Lee joins fellow ex-Hornet pitcher Blaine Knight in the Hogs’ pitching rotation. Familiarity often breeds chemistry, and Lee said he has already benefitted from that chemistry during his first offseason as a Hog.
“To be able to have that help (from Blaine), that guide as to how to play the game at the college level and how to be prepared for anything, that’s huge. Without that, I’d be in the dark a little bit, he’s helped me a lot.”
Lee said he works out twice as much as he did in high school to catch up to the pace of the college game.
Lee’s former assistant coach Mark Cain said he thinks that catching up shouldn’t be an issue for him.
“The mental aspect is going to help him a lot, that was one thing that we really harped on with all of the players at Bryant, was mental toughness,” Cain said. “(In) any type of sport there’s always going to be an adjustment period, and the ones who really rise up to the top are the ones who can adjust the quickest. And mentally, he’s going to be able to handle that because he’s not afraid to work.”
After missing the post season for the first time in the Van Horn era, the Razorback baseball is looking for a turning point. The Hogs went 26-29 last season, including a dismal 7-23 in Southeastern Conference play.
Cain said that with Lee’s hard-working attitude, he can help turn things around for the Razorbacks.
“For the past four years, he’s kind of been built into the type of player that loves to work. His whole upbringing, he’s been around sports,” Cain said. “He’s familiar with working, and he loves to work. So, I think he’ll be able to influence his freshman class to instill those same ethics into them. He has one of those addicting personalities, people like to be around him. If he can get all those other boys to buy into the same thing, they’re going to change some things up there for the better.”
Lee said the team is just ready to move forward and get back to where they belong in the baseball world.
“We’ve brought a lot more focus, a lot more chemistry into our locker room, it’s serious,” Lee said. “They’re ready to get that bad taste out of their mouth and get into the season. They’re just chomping at the bit. (We’ve) been scrimmaging, but we’re ready to beat somebody that doesn’t have an Arkansas jersey on.”
Lee and his fellow Razorbacks will get that chance at 3 p.m. Friday at Baum Stadium against Miami (Ohio) University.