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STANHOPE — A chance to play close to home was the tipping point for Southern Nash High senior Jason Montague, who has opted to continue his baseball career at North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount.
Montague made his decision official to join the Battling Bishops of the NCAA Division III USA South Conference during a signing ceremony Wednesday morning in the Southern Nash media center.
“I felt like that was the best for me,” said Montague, who had an offer from Div. II Coker (South Carolina) College. “I wanted to be closer to my family, closer to all my friends so if I ever need something, they’re just down the road. … And I feel like playing in the community, I can feel like a role model to my friends because they can still see me play and I can still come see them play.
“A lot of thought has gone into this process because I wanted to stay close to home originally because I didn’t want to leave my family. I wanted them to see me play whenever they could.”
The son of Tonya and Tim Montague of Bailey, he said he plans to major in criminal justice at Wesleyan.
Montague, who said he received interest from Div. II programs Barton College and Winston-Salem State University, has played all three outfield positions as well as shortstop and second base in his four varsity seasons with the Firebirds. He plans to continue his defensive versatility at Wesleyan.
“Outfield to second base or wherever they need. I’m just one of those guys that you can put at a position and excel at it,” he said.
Where Montague really excels is at the plate. He is hitting .459, second in the 3-A Big East Conference, with 22 RBIs, which leads the league and ties him for second among North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A players. Over his Southern Nash career, Montague has a .375 average with 57 RBIs but what he’s added to his repertoire this season is power. He’s slugged four home runs so far.
“He’s got a bat and plays anywhere,” Firebirds head coach Todd Brewer said of his 5-foot-7, 160-pound seniors. “For his size, to generate the bat speed and the power that he does, it’s not something you see, I guess you could say in that small of a package.
“He’s hit line drives and been a huge bat every year and, this year, the power’s come.”
Montague grinned when asked the reason behind the power surge.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “I think this year I’m focusing on trying to square up the ball rather than just trying to get on base. I’ve been hitting with other people, hitting coaches, trying to make my game better and I think that’s what’s helped me the most.”
Montague played football his first two years at Southern Nash and tried swimming one winter, but baseball is his calling.
“Baseball is one of those things where I fit the right description,” he said. “I might be a little under the average in height but, that’s the thing with baseball, height doesn’t really mean anything. If you can play, you can play.”
Montague has spent his summers playing in showcase tournaments with Five-Star Baseball and understands what he needs to do to take his game to the collegiate level.
I think my main focus is just getting bigger and stronger because if I get bigger and stronger, then the rest will come,” he said. “Arm strength, turning my hips at the plate, knowing my reads and where the ball needs to be because everything in college is at a faster pace. You can get away with some things in high school but in college, you can’t because the game is played so much quicker.”
But one thing will remain the same — Montague’s friends and family will be able to watch him play.
“I’m very excited about this decision because this has been a long time coming,” he said. “I’m just happy I can make my friends and family proud.”