By the time he reached Saks High School, the 6-foot-4, 175-pounder was excelling as a pitcher. As a sophomore, he outdueled former Cleburne County pitcher C.C. Watson, the Class 4A Player of the Year and now at Mississippi State, in a 2-1 game in the second round of the playoffs. He also homered off Watson in that game. That summer he began receiving interest from Birmingham Southern and attended a camp at Auburn
Then, with seemingly a bright future ahead of him on the diamond, Duke quit playing baseball altogether to focus his efforts entirely on basketball. This past Friday, Duke signed a scholarship offer from the Division II University of Alabama at Huntsville to play that sport.
“Basketball was my love and I really wanted to have an opportunity to play college,” said Duke, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds as a junior. “With baseball and the season and all that, I felt like I didn’t get in all the work that I needed to get. So, I decided just to stick with basketball.”
Duke will be a focal point for the Wildcats, who’ll look to replace first-team all-county choices Stefan Hunter and Andre Richardson as well as Gadsden St. signee R.J. Sturkie when they open up their season against Munford Friday.
“It was a tough decision,” Duke said of quitting baseball. “But thankfully it worked out since I’m getting to do what I wanted to do.”
• NEW DIGS: Sacred Heart will play its first home game of the 2010-2011 season today when they entertain Ohatchee. They’ll also do so in a new location.
Sacred Heart had used McClellan’s Miller Gymnasium for volleyball and basketball games since it opened as a high school seven years ago, renting that facility from the City of Anniston. Now, the Cardinals finally have a place of their own located on the Sacred Heart Catholic Church grounds in Golden Springs.
Principal Charlie Maniscalco said acquiring the metal building which can hold an estimated 230-240 people has been three or four years in the making. When the school building was purchased three years ago, Maniscalaco, said the school’s administrators desired to build the new gym on the school’s campus but the plans never came to fruition due “by-laws”.
Maniscalco thanked the school’s board, church’s priests and donors who gave about $200,000 toward the project for their efforts in the building project as well Parker Memorial Baptist Church for allowing Sacred Heart teams to use their gym for practices the past couple seasons.
“Without donors, we couldn’t have done it on our own,” Maniscalco said. “We’re not a profit-making organization.
• APOLOGIES: In Saturday’s story chronicling Oxford’s 23-21 loss on the road to Gadsden City in the second round of the AHSAA Class 6A state football playoffs, we misidentified a player when listing the Yellow Jackets seniors. Starting offensive lineman Michael Flint is actually a junior. He was named among Oxford’s 12th graders and mentioned under another name in the story. The 6-foot-4, 303-pound standout will return next season after which he’s set to take his talents to The Plains. He committed to Auburn in last month, turning down offers from Alabama, Oregon, Georgia, Tennessee and UCLA among others.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.