Stone 'fell in love' with Tennessee

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Columbia Central and Farragut locked horns in one of the more memorable TSSAA Class AAA state championship games with the Admirals no-hitting the Lions en route to the title last May.

At least four players in uniform that day at Reese Smith Field in Murfreesboro, Tenn., plan on teaming up on the diamond for the Tennessee Volunteers.

Farragut shortstop A.J. Simcox, who drove in the first run of that championship, signed his National Letter of Intent to be a Vol in November. His teammate, Cameron Strickland, verbally committed to UT in August. David Horne struck out six batters and gave up just one earned run as the Lions' pitcher and will suit up for Tennessee on Friday. Also ready to don the Power T is Columbia junior Hayden Stone.

Stone unofficially visited Tennessee the weekend of Jan. 13, caught the basketball game versus Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena and picked up his scholarship offer from Vol coach Dave Serrano and his staff.

It didn't take long for the right-handed pitcher to decide he wanted to be a Vol.

"I met with the coaches before the game and toured everything," Stone told InsideTennessee. "I sat down with them and talked about not only baseball but other things too. I felt like I was home really. I knew a lot of people up there, and that I want to represent my state as well. And, I want to play in the SEC. It just felt like the perfect fit."

The 2011 Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association All-State selection chose the Big Orange over offers from Middle Tennessee and Kentucky.

"Once I got to Knoxville, I just fell in love with it," he added.

Serrano and the staff seemed quite pleased with the news of Stone's verbal commitment.

"They were excited," Stone said. "They told me to keep in touch and stuff like that."

His being reunited with Horne in a couple years has Stone further excited.

"I talk to (Horne) once every couple weeks," Stone said. "He came down at Christmas. We talked a whole lot about it. We talked a lot when I was taking my visit too. He said he really likes it up there. He said I will too."

Serrano's résumé is quite attractive for most prospects considering Tennessee as he not only led a pair of programs to the College World Series but also worked as the pitching coach for Team USA's collegiate roster.

"It's a piece of mind for me really," Stone said. "It just makes me feel like I'll be in the right hands and will learn a lot and get a lot better."

Stone wrapped up his sophomore campaign with an 11-0 record and an earned run average of 1.42. In 74 innings pitched, he struck out 102 while allowing just 54 hits and 13 walks. He helped his team steamroll through the postseason with 26 scoreless innings.

Last June, Stone joined Vol Class of 2012 signees Nick Dawson, Colton Harris and Andrew Lee on Team Tennessee that enjoyed an undefeated championship run at the Junior Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma. Having already had success with fellow Tennesseans and competed for his state on a high level with tremendous success has the Columbia native excited.

"It means a lot," he said. "It just means that Tennessee has a lot of talent. If we can just get the right guys together, we can make the University of Tennessee successful in the future I hope. If we can go out there and do that in the Sunbelt, there's no reason that Tennessee shouldn't be OK in baseball."

Having already played with several future teammates provides the right-hander with a comforting feeling.

"It makes everything more comfortable," Stone said. "I got pretty close to those guys. So, it's going to be nice going to Knoxville and those guys are going to be waiting on me. I like working with those guys a lot.

"I will probably play Sunbelt again. That was a great experience."

With talent like Stone and Middle Tennessee signee Heath Slatton returning to the Columbia roster this spring, the Lions are poised to make a third straight trip to the BlueCross Spring Fling.

"I won't make any predictions or anything, but I think with the arms we have coming back, we're definitely given a shot every game to scratch out a few runs and win," Stone said.

He said his GPA is over 3.0. He took the ACT on Saturday and should get those results soon. He is undecided on a major but did say he likes to write.


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