Both Paris High School alums Phillip Sikes and Zach Norris are competing at the highest level college baseball has to offer. The two Division I players earned their way to where they are now as Phillip is on scholarship with the TCU Horned Frogs while Zach pitches for the UT Arlington Mavericks. Interestingly, each of their teams recently competed in the 2021 College Baseball Showdown Tournament at Globe Life Field in Arlington but their teams did not face one other.
Where dreams are born
To say the least, Phillip faced his share of trials and made several stops along the way to playing for the Horned Frogs.
“Out of high school, I was committed to Louisiana Tech my sophomore year. Soon after that, the coaches left and went to a different school, so I de-committed from there and committed to the University of New Mexico out of high school,” Phillip said. “I had a decent year in right field there, but through another coaching change and kind of being a shaky program, I ended up following one of the coaches (Ken Jacome) to Pima Community College and had an unreal experience there. I loved the Juco life, it was awesome. I committed to TCU after that and the. Ended up getting drafted by the diamondbacks in the late rounds. I made a decision to go to school or to the draft, it was one of the hardest decisions of my life, I prayed about it and ended up here. It’s been great here. Just trying to play ball and get my degree here.”
For Zach, playing Division I baseball was always a dream of his, and he fought hard for that dream every step of the way.
“Growing up and playing ball, it’s always been my dream to play Division I ball, and having it pretty close to home has been great,” Zach said. “My work ethic really started during travel ball. My dad would take me to the batting cages a lot, and I saw a lot of other players there too, which kind of gave me the idea of playing college ball around 12 or 13. I was really tiny when I first got into high school, so I had to work even harder just to catch up and then go farther. Once I got bigger, I went to showcases which is where it really took off. I would be standing out at these showcases with coaches texting me and it gave me belief. I was blessed enough to get offered by my hometown at PJC because of the amazing reputation I heard about Coach (Clay) Cox and their program. I heard about all the people going d1 out of PJC, so I really knew I had a chance then. The recruiting coordinator from UTA came out and watched me my sophomore year in the fall. From there, I went on a visit and now we’re here. Dream come true.”
Earning their way through tireless work
The glory of reaching the pinnacle of college baseball is an exciting feeling for any aspiring athlete on the diamond. However, both Phillip and Zach know the work it takes to stay on top and keep pushing forward as a student-athlete.
“It’s a totally different grind than what everyone else sees,” Phillip said. “We have weights at 7 in the morning, so we get up at 6:15 to eat a little bit beforehand. Then you have to go to class before practice every day at 2:30. Then after that, you have to stay on top of your homework. We lift every day in practice and we will run afterward until the end. When it’s all over, you have to get your homework done starting at, like, 6:45 or 7 and you need to be in bed by 11 if you want to get any sleep.”
“I’d say my work ethic started at a young age through what my parents instilled in me in my everyday routine,” Zach said. “I try to be the best person I can daily with all of that. Playing travel ball has also helped a lot, and I’ve just been disciplined with sports and school. Taking no days off and time management is really key, which has helped with my discipline and motivation.”
“The Juco Route” pays dividends
Before reaching Division I, Phillip and Zach had positive experiences playing Junior College baseball. Phillip played for Pima Community College in Arizona while Zach stayed local with the Paris Junior College Dragons. Both players remain grateful for how much they benefited from “the Juco route.”
“This whole Juco process was huge. Coming out of high school, I wasn’t the biggest or strongest, but I wasn’t considered D-1 material yet,” Zach said. “Once I was blessed with that offer from PJC, I was able to grow and mature there as a collegiate pitcher for two years with a great group of guys and amazing coaching staff. It really opened my eyes in seeing some freshman that have not had the opportunity to develop like you can in Juco. It really opens your eyes to increase your skill levels right out of high school.”
“I’m really happy for Zach, too, in doing the Juco route. I really advise going the Juco route and you can get picked up by some good schools,” Phillip said. “Being able to compete against Zach and keep up with what he’s doing is really cool. It’s a different animal to play out there, but it’s really neat to share this type of experience with him.”
There’s no place like home
Another thing these players have in common is where they came from. Phillip and Zach are both Paris natives who competed against one another on the youth circuits and even played together for a short time when their paths at Paris High School overlapped. To this day, Paris holds a special place in each of their hearts and serves as a reminder of where they came from no matter how big the game is.
“It’s incredible. I love being able to hear my name and be able to represent Paris, Texas,” Phillip said. “No one really knows about Paris unless they’re from there or the Eiffel Tower. I love it.”
“I give a lot of credit to Paris because you have to have a lot of fight to get opportunities like this,” Zach said. “It’s hard to make it to D1 in athletics and you have to fight for your dream. There isn’t much exposure here so you have to work to get exposure. I was able to get that through PJC but being in Paris taught me to fight every day and work hard for my dreams. I brought my intensity from my high school days into junior college and I think it contributed to our success, too. I plan to keep bringing that energy to UTA.”
Great starts on the D1 diamond
Zach had plenty of energy earlier this week as he pitched the first four innings of a tournament game against the Oklahoma Sooners. Zach limited the Sooners, a preseason top-10 team, to three runs and struck out his first batter in Division I. Getting a taste of the dream he has tirelessly chased for so long was unforgettable.
“I would say Wednesday night was a dream come true,” Zach said. “I got my first Division I start at the newest MLB stadium against Oklahoma. Not many people are able to do that. It was very rewarding. Before the game, I just had to stop and soak everything in and remember where I came from.”
Phillip, a centerfielder for TCU, was impressive in his own right during his tournament run. His best game came in a 20-0 win against Texas Southern, where he finished 3-of-6 from the plate with 3 runs scored and 5 RBI, highlighted by a fifth-inning inside-the-park homer. Phillip expressed his gratitude for his fresh start at TCU, which would not have come if he was not decisive and thoughtful with his decisions.
“I would say to not cut off all of your options early,” Phillip said. “You may want to go play at some big school, but you don’t want to go somewhere and sit out for two or three years before you show your abilities. You just need to self-evaluate and show what you’re capable of. It’s not just the school, but it’s also about the coaches, and the school itself.”
The best is yet to come…?
Coincidentally, UTA and TCU are scheduled to play each other three times this season. The teams will square off at 6:30 p.m. March 30 and April 27 in Arlington and will play in Fort Worth at 6:30 p.m. April 20. Each of the games falls on Tuesdays. For more sports coverage, click here. For more local news coverage, click here.