JONESBORO — Nettleton’s Kyle Tolley celebrated his birthday Tuesday by signing a letter of intent to play baseball for South Arkansas Community College next spring.

Tolley was an all-conference pitcher/outfielder for the Raiders as a senior. He expects to primarily play the outfield for SouthArk, which will field a team for the first time in 2022, and said there is also a chance he will pitch as a reliever.

“I’m ready. It’s going to be exciting,” Tolley said. “One of my buddies is going there with me. I’m just glad to have this opportunity. It was rocky from the start because I had committed to a school in Louisiana, then COVID hit and so money, it wasn’t there. I’m glad to have this opportunity to be able to work again and continue the game I love playing.”

Tolley finished with a .422 batting average as the leadoff man in the Raider lineup this spring. His totals included nine doubles, six stolen bases, 26 runs scored and 20 runs batted in as well as an on-base percentage of .500.

Nettleton coach Preston Despain said Tolley gave the Raiders a spark in all areas.

“He’s got a lot of energy. His speed is definitely part of it, but just his whole game sort of revolves around his energy and enthusiasm, his love for the game,” Despain said. “He’s a spark at the plate. He had a great offensive season. He’s got some pop. He’s just a well-rounded baseball player and I think South Arkansas is getting a good one.”

Tolley hopes to improve his strength to increase his power numbers at the plate. He turned in an impressive 60-yard dash time of 6.4 seconds at a scouting day in Mississippi earlier this month.

“My first time, I ran a 6.58 and I looked over at them and said I stumbled. I was like, ‘I’m going to go again and I’m going to throw out 6.4,’” said Tolley. “I’d never run a 6.4 before and I put my head down, told myself I was going to do it and I did it.”

A starting pitcher in Nettleton’s 5A-East doubleheaders, Tolley finished with a 3-7 record and a 5.11 earned run average. He struck out 54 batters in 50 2/3 innings while facing rugged competition as the 5A-East produced the 5A state runner-up, another state semifinalist and two more state quarterfinalists.

Tolley struck out nine in a loss to Batesville where every run was unearned and he struck out seven in a victory over Greene County Tech.

“When he took the ball for us, when he was on the mound with his presence, he gave us a chance to win any game,” said Despain, whose team finished 10-16 overall and 3-11 in the 5A-East.

Despain said Tolley made big plays in center field when he wasn’t pitching.

“He was an anchor in the outfield,” Despain said. “He ran balls down for us, turned doubles into outs. I think South Arkansas is getting a steal.”

SouthArk, which is located in El Dorado, expects to play in NJCAA Region 2. Tolley said he learned of the opportunity to play for the Stars late in the season from Despain.

“He pulled me into his office one day and he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a buddy I used to play with at SAU, his name is Cannon Lester, and he’s starting a program at SouthArk. Would you be interested?’” Tolley said. “I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and it started from there.”