Heritage Hills senior JT Smallwood signed a letter of intent Friday to continue his baseball career at Oakland City University. Looking on are father Tony and mother Heather.

LINCOLN CITY — Heritage Hills baseball is currently trying to resurge to prominence, in search of its first sectional baseball championship since 2011. The Patriots treaded some water last year by making it to the championship game despite not having the best record, only to be run-ruled by Evansville Memorial.

One big reason for the Patriots making it to the title game last year was due to JT Smallwood, who took a big step forward at the plate to be named an All-Pocket Athletic Conference Honorable Mention, and his performance and leadership helped pave the way for him signing his letter of intent Friday to continue his baseball career at Oakland City University, as he plans to major in education.

“I really like the campus,” Smallwood said. “I love the coaches, they’re really passionate about what they do there — and then that’s when I decided that I wanted to go there.”

Smallwood exemplifies versatility, and can play second base, shortstop and/or third base when he joins the Mighty Oaks. He batted .393, with a .449 on-base percentage during the 2021 season — scoring 19 runs and knocking in 16.

He’s also a member of the Heritage Hills boys basketball team, but this is now set to be his last hurrah on the hardwood.

“Baseball’s always been my true love,” he said. “I mean, I started playing basketball at a young age, too, but I’ve always loved baseball more — it’s always been my true love. I started travel ball when I was eight, and played T-ball and all that before that. I just really love the game, grew up watching the Cincinnati Reds and Jay Bruce. So, I think that was a big part of it as well.”

Smallwood might also be tasked with trying to bring winning on a consistent basis to Oakland City. Since 2010, the Mighty Oaks have had two winning seasons on the diamond, one season with a .500 record and the rest below .500.

“He can have a direct impact right from the beginning,” Pats baseball coach Andy Fischer said. “Even if he’s not on the field, he’s going to push others to get better because if not, he’s going to take their position. He’s a great scholar of the game, he’s going to continue to get better as the levels go and he’s learn from the other players. And I think he’s just going to make their program that much stronger.”

“I think my hitting is what will excel at the college level, but also my fielding,” Smallwood said. “I’m an overall player. I can play anywhere on the field — outfield, infield, wherever the coach needs me and then bat wherever through the lineup I think will be good, too.”

He plans to prepare for Oakland City next summer by continuing to play for his travel team, Evansville Leathernecks 18U, and he knows it’ll be important to get at-bats against high-level competition that features hard-throwing pitchers.

Until then, he will try to help the basketball team to more success, and the Pats will try to improve from their 9-21 record from 2021. And if they do, Smallwood almost certainly will be a major part of that.

“Last year, I think was a nice learning curve for a lot of our players, and hopefully, we can come out a little bit more ahead of the game and just focused and determined to play the best baseball we can,” Fischer said.

“We return everybody but three of our guys, and I think you’ll see our record improve,” Smallwood said. “I think we could have a winning season, I think we can make a deep run. We’ll be a lot better by the end of the season than what we were at the start with more learning to do. But I think we can make a run this year.”