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Former Golden Tiger great signs with Western Kentucky

After going 12-0 on the mound and leading Russellville to its first-ever baseball state championship in 2015, Jacob Green knew exactly what he wanted to do next: Become a Division One pitcher at the college level.

He also knew he wasn’t quite ready.

“Coming out of high school, I had to be brutally honest with myself, as far as what path would be best for me,” said Green, a 6’3, 210-pound right-hander whose breakout senior season with the Golden Tigers included a 1.67 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 83.2 innings. “I needed to develop so much more coming out of high school. It was hard for me, but the JUCO route was the best route for me.”

With that in mind, Green chose to head down to Tuscaloosa and play at Shelton State Community College, where long-time head coach Bobby Sprowl (a former major leaguer and renowned pitching guru) had built a well earned reputation for developing players—especially pitchers—and sending them on to the next level. Green, a power pitcher with an upper-80s fastball and a wipeout slider, envisioned himself as the latest in a long line of Sprowl success stories.

“As far as pitching goes,” Green said, “there’s nobody around who knows the game as well as he does. It was an honor to call him my coach and learn from him. I just tried to be a sponge and soak up as much information as I could.”

Green, who tossed a pair of shutouts against Etowah and Alexandria during Russellville’s 2015 playoff run and then beat Helena 4-1 in the clinching game at the Class 5A state finals, took the lessons he learned from Sprowl and applied them toward becoming a more complete pitcher. This past season, his second at Shelton State, he posted the second-best ERA (3.10) among Buccaneer starters, striking out 51 batters and allowing just 44 hits and 16 walks in 52.1 innings. His best start of the year came on April 24 at Calhoun when he struck out 10 in eight innings while giving up only three hits and zero earned runs in a 5-1 win.

Shortly after Shelton’s season ended in mid-May, Green began weighing his options with regard to the next step on his baseball journey. He ultimately chose to sign with Western Kentucky, a Division One school in Bowling Green and a member of Conference-USA.

“I’m so excited,” said Green, who also had talks with Tennessee Tech, UAH, UNA, UAB and Jacksonville State. “They had me up for a little visit. I threw to some live batters, and they showed me around the campus and everything. They gave me an offer, and almost instantly I knew that’s where my heart was. I thought it would be a really good fit for me, so I jumped on it.

“My heart was set on Western Kentucky after I went up there. It’s a beautiful place, and I thought I would fit in with their program really well. That was another big thing for me.”

On Sunday afternoon, Green reflected on his road to becoming a Division One pitcher, and how sometimes the best path toward reaching your goals isn’t necessarily the shortest one.
“Going to Shelton and spending those two years with Coach Sprowl, I really think he developed me into the pitcher I am today,” said Green, who will have two years of eligibility with the Hilltoppers. “He’s fantastic. It’s been a blessing. I really think going to Shelton was a great move for me. I have zero regrets about going there. It was perfect for me.”

Green’s growth as a pitcher over the past two years has included the addition of a couple of ticks to his fastball, which now sits in the 88-91 range and can reach 92 or 93 when the situation calls for it. He also said that his slider, the pitch responsible for the vast majority of the 40 strikeouts he racked up in five starts for Russellville during that epic 2015 playoff run, has improved. Pure stuff aside, though, Green has learned how to navigate his way through a college lineup—when to throttle back, and when to reach for a little bit extra.

“I kind of try to save some in the tank,” he said. “You never know when you’re gonna be in a tight spot and have to dig deep and make a few pitches. It’s been a part of my game here, to keep a little bit in my tank. Throughout a start, you might need to make a pitch here or add velocity on a certain batter, or something like that. That’s something I take a lot of pride in, being able to up my game on command.

“That’s one thing Coach Sprowl taught us.”

The ability to pace himself through longer games at the college level is another valuable lesson Green picked up at Shelton, one that he had already begun learning from head coach Chris Heaps and pitching coach Eli Fuller while still with the Golden Tigers.

“Russellville got me ready for that,” Green said of pitching a nine-inning game instead of seven. “The coaching staff there prepared me for that, just learning to keep my pitch count down and getting after guys, controlling the game. So when I started with the nine-inning stuff, it was almost like, ‘Okay, I’ve got a little bit of experience with how this is gonna work.’

“The Russellville coaching staff and the guys there did a phenomenal job preparing me to make that next step. I would not have been close to ready for that if it wasn’t for them.”

Now, with Western Kentucky on the horizon and his goal of becoming a Division One pitcher in hand, Green is ready to make yet another step in his baseball career—a career that he hopes is nowhere near being finished.

“Oh, it’s a dream come true,” said Green, who finished with a 4-4 record in 10 starts for Shelton State in 2017. “This is one of the things you envision yourself doing your entire life. Then you get to a point where you’re like, ‘Am I gonna be able to do this?’ For it to be upon me now, being able to fulfill my dream, it’s an awesome feeling. I’m almost speechless. It’s awesome.

“But I haven’t scratched off all my goals yet. I’d really like to be drafted and have a chance to play professional baseball. I think with another year or two to develop, that’s a huge possibility for me.”

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