A couple of longtime, friendly rivals are one step closer to finally becoming teammates.

Southeast’s Michael Rangel and Dalton’s Skylar Dean will join forces for the 2006-07 baseball season after signing scholarships to Chattanooga State Community College.

“I’ve known Michael for awhile,” said Dean, the Cats’ starting first baseman this season. “We played against each other as far back as the seventh grade on travel teams.”

Rangel, an infielder/pitcher, and Dean are joining a team on the rise in junior-college ranks. The Tigers were nationally ranked — for the first time in school history — most of the season and reached as high as No. 6 at one time.

The Tigers are coached by Greg Dennis, who has led Chattanooga State to winning records in each of his three seasons. Dennis played at McClennan Community College for two years, one year at Florida State and one at Baylor University

“I like the fact they’re a highly touted program,” Dean said. “They did really well this season and finished nationally ranked. It’s going to be a nice place to go and I believe if I work hard I can better myself as a player and move on to a higher level of baseball after that.”

Dean batted .392 with five doubles and 12 RBIs this season for the Catamounts.

“I talked to (coach Dennis) and they like me for my bat,” Dean said. “He told me they would try me in left field and as a utility guy. I’ve also caught before, too.”

His favorite position?

“I just like to hit,” Dean said. “I love to step in the batter’s box and say, ‘OK, I’m here, see if you can get me out.’ No matter who is pitching, any pitcher, I think I can beat him. He can’t throw anything by me. That’s just the way I think up there.”

Dean recalled a couple of highlights of his prep career, starting with a three-run, two-out home run against Ringgold when the Cats were losing by two runs. Dalton eventually won the game by one run. In his sophomore year, Dean went 2-for-3 against Northwest Whitfield’s veteran pitcher, Ryan Herbort.

Rangel was one of the top players this season for the Raiders, batting .346 with a school-record 11 doubles, two home runs, 18 RBIs and 20 runs scored. He had a .609 slugging percentage and a .968 fielding percentage, committing just four errors all season.

“I’ll be playing third base and first base up there,” Rangel said. “My preference is third base. I like those hot shots right at me. Coach Dennis was bragging on my hitting and I feel I can do just as good at the college level as I’ve done at Southeast.

“But I think my hitting will get me some playing time.”

Rangel will be playing summer ball with the Chattanooga Mustangs, the same team Southeast teammate Heath Lock plays for.

Ironically, Rangel wasn’t that pleased with his senior-year performance with the Raiders. As a junior, he hit around .365 with four homers and 40 RBIs.

“I don’t think I played up to my potential this year,” he said. “Heath and me tried to carry the team and I just don’t think I was focused enough on the things I needed to do for myself. I was worried about helping everybody else.”

Rangel said he “pretty much had his mind set on” Chattanooga State and looks forward to starting his college career in the fall.

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