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BOLIVIA—The Brunswick Community College baseball team begins the 2013 season ranked No. 18 in the NJCAA Division poll. (The preseason poll is compiled from a questionnaire provided to all Division II programs.)
BCC was 33-22 last season and reached the championship game of the Region 10 tournament. The Dolphins open this season at noon Saturday at Founders Field against the ECU club baseball team.
Two position players who were among the statistical leaders last year for the Dolphins—first baseman Bryson Benton and outfielder Ryan Hill—return this year. What is unusual is that they are even playing baseball for BCC.
Benton is from South Jordan, Utah, the farthest recruit in BCC baseball history. Hill’s initial interest was in football—he starred at West Brunswick and was quarterback for the East in the annual North Carolina East-West all-star football game.
Now Benton and Hill are at BCC for their second seasons of college baseball.
Hill, a 2009 West graduate, originally signed a letter of intent to attend Navy. He played football at a prep school in Rhode Island for one year before he enrolled at Navy.
“I got hurt,” he said. “I had meniscus surgery, so I wasn’t able to play (my first) season, and that’s when I left.”
In his first full season of baseball since his senior year at West, Hill batted .295 (33 for 112). His on-base average of .432 was third best on the team. He walked 27 times, best on the team. His fielding average was .954 (three errors) and he had 61 putouts.
Hill, who had not played baseball for two years before he enrolled at BCC, said the biggest adjustment was getting into baseball shape.
“I had been playing football all those years,” he said. “I had a lot of weight on me I had to cut down so I could run the bases the way I wanted to.”
His training succeeded. Last season, he scored 28 times, tying for fourth best on the team. He stole 13 bases, second most on the team, and was thrown out once.
Hill said he was most proud of his on-base percentage.
“I batted leadoff a couple times last year, and that’s pretty much what you want to do, no matter how you get on base—as long as you are able to help your team any way you can,” he said.
As for his college baseball prospects after this season, Hill said he has had “a couple of calls from some schools, but I have to see how this season goes and take it from there. As long as I put up the numbers I did last year and keep progressing, I think I will be fine.
“A lot of people compare me to my uncle, Eric Johnson (who played pro baseball and pro football). To be able to switch from sport to sport is pretty good. He told me if I put my mind to it, I could do it—and to work hard.”
Benton’s statistics are as impressive as Hill’s. Benton batted .376 (50 for 133), second best on the team. His on-base average of .482 was best on the team. He tied for the team lead doubles (11) and led the Dolphins in RBIs (31). His fielding average was .981 (two errors) and he had 94 putouts.
Benton said a former BCC assistant coach “saw a video of me on the Internet, and I guess he went out on a limb and emailed me. I didn’t intend on coming here, but the more I thought about it, the more I was interested. I never visited. I just took a chance.”
It was hardly a whim, as he noted “back home it is snowing right now—there is about half a foot of snow.”
Besides the weather, the baseball attracted him to this area.
“The Carolinas are really known for their baseball,” he said. “I had to prove myself because nobody knew who I was. I didn’t get a chance to play my (high school) senior season because of the talent. I knew I had the talent to do it—it was just somebody giving me the chance. I’m blessed that Coach Allen gave me the opportunity to even come out here. I originally came out here as a pitcher, and I got moved to the outfield and first base.”
Benton’s success has attracted some attention from four-year colleges.
“There are a couple of people who have talked to me a little bit,” he said.
He said if gets no offers, he will return to Utah “and go to law school or culinary school. I’m waiting patiently to see what happens.”
He admitted that coming from an area in the West with mountain ranges to an area in the South bordering the Atlantic Ocean was a culture shock.
“Everything—the way they talk, the way they act, their tendencies,” he said. “It’s a lot different. But I’m used to it and I like it here.
“The first semester I was telling my mom I want to come back so bad. But my parents won’t let me quit. ‘You’re not a quitter.’ So, I just decided to stay and it worked out. And I gained a lot of really good friends here.”
As well as some BCC baseball fans.