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Ward signs with Auburn University

It was earlier this year at a baseball camp that Russellville’s High School’s Judd Ward committed to playing at the next level at Auburn University. It was last week when the early signing period began that he made it official.

“Judd is the type of player I think Butch is looking for as a catalyst for his offense and the type of baseball he wants to play,” said Coach Chris Heaps. He called Ward “one of the most talented players and one of the most dedicated players I have ever had the pleasure of coaching.”

AU Head Coach Butch Thompson was named Auburn’s head baseball coach last October. Thompson, who spent three seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Auburn from 2006-08, returns to the Plains after seven seasons at Mississippi State as both associate head coach and pitching coach. Thompson was named the 2014 Baseball America and American Baseball Coaches Association National Assistant Coach of the Year while at Mississippi State. In 23 years of coaching at the collegiate level, including 13 in the Southeastern Conference, he has coached seven College World Series participants, including a national runner-up finish, won nine conference championships and made 14 postseason appearances. He has also served as an assistant under three National Coach of the Year recipients.

Player development has been equally important for Thompson, who has turned 23 student-athletes who went undrafted out of high school into Major League Baseball draft picks.

It was Thompson, and his coaching staff, that proved to be a draw for Ward.

“We really like the coaches there. They are just super,” said mom Tracy Ward, who has long been an Auburn fan. “It’s just a good program.”

AU’s Brad Bohannon, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, said their program saw Ward as a “very skilled, polished baseball player.” In addition to his talent on the diamond, Bohannon praised “strong intangibles,” like work ethic and competitive spirit – something Heaps has also prized in Ward, as well Chad Wray and Cody Greenhill, who also signed last Wednesday – Greenhill also at Auburn.

“We’re so proud to have been blessed, just for a while, to have this talent,” Heaps said. “We’ve been really excited and blessed to have such hard-working guys … Their best baseball is probably ahead of them. I think they can be really successful at the next level.”

Superintendent Heath Grimes also expressed his pride and congratulations for Ward and for the RHS coaching staff.

“Any time our school system is represented by athletes like this, we’re proud of their accomplishments,” Grimes said. “We want to see them succeed on so many different levels, and we hope we’ve had a little part in giving them the tools to do that.”

Ward plays centerfield and could be a lead-off or No. 2 hitter, Heaps said. He reports at .511 batting average from the last season.

Dad David Ward said it’s great to see his son continue to the next level.

“That’s all he’s ever wanted to do – hit baseballs and catch and throw,” Ward said, “and that’s all he wants to do now.”