Dustin Lunn waited his turn – two long years – to become Itawamba’s starting catcher.
His patience has paid off. The slugging backstop from Pontotoc leads the nation in home runs with 11 and is second in RBIs with 46.
At rival Northeast, relief pitcher Patrick Hinton’s dream was to play quarterback in college.
Instead, the former Kossuth star has become the nation’s top closer. He has a 1-0 record with seven saves – tops in the NJCAA – and a pristine 0.00 ERA this season.
Both players hope they have some impact today when their teams – ICC (25-7, 10-0) and Northeast (21-8, 7-3) – play at 1 p.m. in an MACJC North Division doubleheader at Booneville’s Harold T. White Field.
Lunn, who went 8-for-12 with a double, four homers and 12 RBI in four games last week, has been nominated for the NJCAA’s national player of the week honor.
In the second game of Monday’s doubleheader against Dyersburg (Tenn.) State, he had four hits, including his 11th home run.
“I don’t know what’s got into me,” said Lunn, who’s batting .451 with a slugging percentage of .934. “I struggled last year. Now, it looks like a beach ball coming in.”
Finding his spot
Lunn replaced Alabama signee Cody Trotter behind the plate after playing third base and designated hitter last season. He was redshirted his freshman year.
“Catcher’s where I belong,” said Lunn, who played the position and pitched in high school. “I’ve had some big shoes to fill. Last year was tough for me. I wasn’t fit to play third base and I felt a lot of pressure.”
Lunn, a West Alabama signee, said playing catcher has contributed to his success at the plate.
“I learn the umpire’s zone and build off him,” he said.
ICC coach Rick Collier believes Lunn’s “hard work” to improve at the plate is paying off with the impressive offensive numbers he’s producing.
“He’s figured out how to use all fields,” the coach noted. “He believes in what he’s doing and he’s building confidence.
“He’s stepping up because he knows he can do it. He’s the guy you want up there in a clutch situation.”
Northeast coach Kent Farris always believed Hinton was a better baseball than football player. That’s why he kept a scholarship available for the youngster when he walked on for football at Delta State.
“He had that itch to play football, but when it didn’t work out, it was fortunate for us,” Farris said. “He was better than I anticipated.”
In two seasons as the Tigers’ closer, the hard-throwing right-hander has registered 18 saves, posted a 2-0 record, struck out 51 batters and scattered 21 hits in 37.2 innings.
His two-year earned run average is under 0.05.
“I was behind coming in, so I knew I was going to be a relief guy in the beginning,” said Hinton, who transferred to Northeast in December 2007. “Another guy started out closing, but he wasn’t throwing strikes.
“I was able to throw strikes, and they kept giving it to me.”
Hinton, who signed with North Alabama, uses a 90-mph fastball, a changeup and a slider to baffle batters.
“It depends day to day what pitch is working for him,” Farris said. “He can be dominating at times, and at other times, get you out with grit. Our players are confident with him on the mound.
“He’s maybe 5-10, 180 pounds, but he’s got the heart the size of a 6-4, 250-pound guy.”
Gene Phelps/Daily Journal