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Baseball: From Lambert to JUCO to walk-on, McAllister thriving with Bulldogs
Josh McAllister
Josh McAllister, who graduated from Lambert in 2017, has embraced an everyday role with the University of Georgia's baseball team this season. Photo courtesy University of Georgia Athletics

Josh McAllister always bet on himself.

It's one of the reasons the former Lambert standout got where he is today.

McAllister has emerged this season as one of the top players on the University of Georgia's baseball team. It's not so much a breakout season, but rather a chance for others to see him the way he's always viewed himself.

McAllister hit .319 with 11 doubles and four home runs in 2017 as a senior, helping the Longhorns to a region championship and into the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. As a junior, he batted .339 and had 14 doubles as Lambert reached the Elite Eight, falling to eventual state champion Walton.

Still, the offers McAllister imagined he would receive never came.

"I really didn't get recruited out of high school," McAllister said. "I thought I was a pretty good high school player, and I just wasn't getting the looks that I thought I deserved. That's not myself throwing me a pity party or anything, but I thought I was better than a couple of schools that maybe were talking to me. So, I decided to go the junior college route, and Jamie Corr was just super awesome the one year I was there with him."

Corr coached McAllister his freshman year at Lambert. A year later, he accepted the head coaching position at Florida Southwestern State College, a junior college in Fort Myers.

Corr said that even as a freshman, McAllister already had a polished glove and was a plus defender. So, when McAllister came to Florida for a summer ball tournament, Corr invited his former player to tour the campus.

"I was very surprised when he called me and said that he didn't have a lot of offers and was really interested in coming down and playing," Corr said. "So I was like, 'Get over here right away,' and I was able to show him and his family the campus and the stadium and everything. I knew I was getting a steal."

McAllister earned immediate playing time at shortstop for the Buccaneers, and by his sophomore season, he'd upped his batting average to .318 with 16 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, striking out only 11 times in 41 games.

"I'm super blessed that I was able to go the junior college route and become a better baseball player and mature a little more, because I don't think I was ready to go to the University of Georgia out of high school," McAllister said. "But going down to Florida for two years and playing every day for two years actually helped me a lot."

McAllister watched as his teammates latched onto Division I programs. Santino Miozzi signed with the University of Florida, Carter Smith ended up at Florida State and Vince Vannelle landed at the University of Arizona.

Still, the offers McAllister imagined he would receive never came.

He figured this recruiting cycle would be different, especially after excelling against more competitive pitching, but it ended up reminding him of the same challenges he faced in high school.

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Lambert’s Josh McAllister trots home after his first-inning home run Friday in the Longhorns’ 4-2 win against Milton. - photo by Kevin O'Brien

"Just super confused," McAllister said. "You put up some good numbers your junior year [in high school] and you don't talk to anyone, but that's life. My mom and my dad really pushed me to just be like, 'Hey, that's life. You've got to go get what you deserve or what you think you can accomplish.'"

So, with his academic future in mind, McAllister applied to UGA, just as a regular student.

McAllister planned to try out as a walk-on that fall, but first he sent a text message to Danny Pralgo, his summer ball coach at 6-4-3 Athletics.

Then, McAllister got a phone call from UGA head coach Scott Stricklin, which resulted in the offer he always imagined he would receive. 

"Two days later, I got a phone call sitting in my dorm in Florida, in Fort Myers, Florida, from Coach Stricklin saying, 'Coach Pralgo sent me some video and we'd love to offer you a preferred walk-on spot,'" McAllister recalled. "He said, 'Take as much time as you need.' 

"I got off the phone with Coach Stricklin, I called my mom for 10 minutes, I called my dad for 10 minutes and then 10 minutes later, I called Coach Stricklin and said, 'Hey coach, I would love to come to the University of Georgia.'"

McAllister was ecstatic. 

Both of his parents went to UGA, and McAllister said he hasn't missed a football game at Sanford Stadium since he was 4 years old.

And when McAllister drilled a walk-off home run in February to beat Gardner-Webb, his parents were there to see it.

"That was definitely a moment that I took in," McAllister said. "It was super awesome, because both my parents were there and I had a couple friends there too, so that would probably be the moment where I was like, 'All right, this is actually happening for real.'"

It was McAllister's first home run at Foley Field. He added another the following day, finishing 3-for-5 as Georgia routed Gardner-Webb 17-3.

Since then, McAllister has been a mainstay in the Bulldogs' lineup, batting .362 with five home runs and four doubles. His 1.020 OPS and .638 slugging percentage lead the team, and he owns just five strikeouts in 76 plate appearances. 

McAllister credits UGA hitting coach Scott Daeley with tweaking his swing and helping him stay more compact.

"I feel like I have really good hands, so I can get inside the ball," McAllister said. "So, I just worked on staying short, small load and just seeing the ball. That's what it comes down to, especially when you face the arms you face in the SEC and at the Division I level."

On defense, McAllister has committed only one error despite splitting his time at second base, third base and shortstop. 

None of McAllister's success at UGA surprises Corr.

"First off, he is a world-class athlete," Corr said. "He is one of the most athletic kids I've been around. He's always had the ability to make the highlight reel play. Just the ability to have those extra couple years of junior college to gain the strength he needed to be able to compete on an everyday basis with the SEC competition is exactly what he needed."

McAllister injured his hamstring April 2 during a 5-3 win against South Carolina and has been out of the lineup since then.

But McAllister hopes to return in time to help Georgia through the gauntlet of SEC play, hoping to provide an appropriate end to this fairytale season.

"This season has been more than I could ever expect, to be honest with you," McAllister said. "I'm kind of taking it in every day that I get to wake up at the University of Georgia and go to Foley Field every single day. I just take everything as a blessing and just try to go in there and play baseball."

Josh McAllister
"This season has been more than I could ever expect, to be honest with you," McAllister said. "I'm kind of taking it in every day that I get to wake up at the University of Georgia and go to Foley Field every single day. I just take everything as a blessing and just try to go in there and play baseball." Photo courtesy University of Georgia Athletics