BEE BRANCH There’s a band of brothers roaming the basketball court and baseball field at South Side Bee Branch.
Five juniors — Zac Capps, Will Pennington, Mason Duncan, Josh Payne and Garrett Collums — have been best friends and buddies since they were children. They’ve played baseball since they were 5, mostly together, and they have big plans for their final two years of high school.
“They’re a good group of kids and good ballplayers — but they’re a better group of kids than ballplayers,” said Tye Glover, a South Side graduate now in his third year coaching basketball and baseball at his alma mater. “It’s real unusual to have five guys who are really good players in the same grade.
“It’s got as good a talent as any class I know of since I’ve been around here.”
Carol Raines, Capps’ mother, said the five do everything together.
“If they’re not playing ball, they’re camping and fishing,” she said. “They’re really fun. We just love those boys. They’re like family.”
Judy Capps of Conway, Capps’ grandmother, said “good raising” has gone into all five.
“They’re boys, but they’ve all got good grades, and the friendship, the camaraderie they have, and how they work together in sports — it’s a neat story.”
When the boys were 5, South Side had two youth baseball teams for that age. Three of the boys were on one team; two were on the other. When they were 9, the teams combined, and they won the AABA Buddy League State Tournament. Collums’ father, Sam, was their coach. The boys played summer league together until they were 14, when they moved up to high school baseball. All five started as freshmen as the Hornets won the district tournament. They also started on the junior high basketball team that also won the district tournament to finish 19-2. Also that year, Capps, Collums and Pennington ran track, helping the junior Hornets to the conference championship in that sport as well. Capps and Pennington earned all-state honors in track.
As sophomores last year, they helped the basketball Hornets to the regional tournament, falling to Sacred Heart one win short of advancing to the state tournament for the first time in years. Duncan earned all-conference honors.
The five started for the baseball team — Capps in left and center field, Pennington in center and at pitcher, Collums at first, Duncan at shortstop and pitcher, and Payne at catcher and pitcher. They led the Hornets to a 23-11 record that ended in the semifinals of the state tournament, where they lost to eventual champion Midland. They won the district tournament and took second in the regional. Collums was named all-conference; Pennington, Payne and Capps were all-region; Payne was all-state; and Capps all-state tournament.
On the track, Collums, Pennington and Capps were all-state.
After track season, the five remained together during the extended high school baseball season until the first of July. They recently began their basketball season.
And they have lofty goals for their final two years of high school.
“In basketball, I just want to make it to the state tournament,” Pennington said. “I can’t think of anytime South Side has been, except like back in the ’80s when my dad was in high school, they were state runner-up. In baseball, I want to win the state tournament.”
Capps said chemistry among the five has been their secret.
“We just play good together,” he said. “We don’t really have to tell anybody what to do — we just know it.”
“We all know what each other is going to do,” he said. “We know what they’re thinking, basically. Sometimes we get aggravated at each other, but only because we know we can do better.”
Glover said that when he returned to his alma mater, he knew this would be quite a class.
“I knew what kind of kids they were, and I knew their parents,” he said. “When I was in high school and in college, I watched them when they were playing teeny ball.”
He said Payne has a lot of individual baseball talent.
“He catches, pitches some, hits in the middle of the order,” Glover said. “Basically, about every part of baseball, he’s good at.”
Pennington is one of the leaders, the coach said. He tore his right ACL the first week of basketball practice last fall and was out until April. Despite being less than full speed, he was the winning pitcher in the first game of the state tournament.
“If he hadn’t been able to pitch, I don’t know how things would’ve come out,” Glover said. “He’s a very tough kid. He works extremely hard, is a great student, a leader in the school and in athletics. He does what he’s supposed to do all the way around. It’s the same way with all of them — they’re never in trouble. I never had to deal with that kind of stuff.”
Colllums went to school at Clinton until joining his summer mates at South Side for their ninth-grade year. He is the Hornets’ lead-off hitter.
“The biggest compliment I can give him athletically is he’s really good under pressure,” Glover said. “I can’t tell you how many times he’s come through in the clutch for us.”
The coach said Capps is probably the most athletically talented of the group.
“He’s extremely fast,” Glover said. “He can shoot in basketball, and in baseball, he can hit for power. He’s one of the hardest workers, and he’s the strongest kid in the school, pound-for-pound. He’s working at it, and I think he’s going to see it pay off down the line.”
Duncan was the team’s best basketball player as a sophomore point guard, Glover said.
“He basically quarterbacked us,” he said. “We went from my first year here from winning five games to about 20, a huge improvement, and he had a big part to do with that. Athletically, he’s not as talented as some other guys, but as far as being sport-savvy
and knowing how to play the game — you can’t teach that, and he’s got it. He uses his ability more than most.”
Payne said all five are involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and take their roles as leaders seriously.
“We try to make each other better and feed off each other in how hard we play and how hard we practice,” he said. “We try as hard as we can in the classroom and try as hard as we can to make people look up to us, to make everybody a better person.”
Pennington said the relationship among the five has allowed them to make each other better.
“Since we’re such good friends, I can give criticism to them and they can take criticism, and we use that as constructive,” he said. “We don’t get mad. Well, we get mad at each other sometimes, but you can take what they’re saying and apply it and use it to better yourself — in everything, not just in sports.”
Collums agreed that the five remain best friends.
“We’re really close,” he said. “We hang out, go to the gym, go eat, hang out, go fishing a lot, just run around town,” he said. “We just do whatever. The chemistry is incredible with us. We’re like a well-oiled machine. We work very well together. We’re all very competitive, so we push each other really hard.”