First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON -- One by one they gravitated toward the fence like metal shavings to a magnet.
Armed with JUGS radar guns, notebooks and intrigue, they had to get a closer reading on this rangy, right-handed rocket launcher everybody was calling “Nuke.”
“Eighty-eight,” one of the onlookers said, though few heard him above the echo from the firecracker pop in catcher Brandon Carmichael's mitt.
“That was his breakthrough,” Lumberton baseball coach Paul Hod-ges said of senior Joey Bengtson's pitching performance in an October tournament in Charlotte. “He put on a show with our traveling team against some excellent competition.
“That's when he really began turning heads.”
One of those heads belongs to Gill Payne, the seventh-year Brevard Col-lege baseball coach, who offered the 6-foot, 165-pound Bengtson a scholarship to pitch for the NAIA power.
Bengtson accepted, signing a national letter of intent Monday.
The baseball scholarship, combined with an academic-based package, will cover approximately $10,000 of his $19,000 annual tuition, Bengt-son said.
“I wanted to go somewhere small that was away from home and had a good baseball program,” Bengtson said, listing the reasons he chose the private, four-year liberal arts college nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Brevard baseball team, which competes in the Appalachian Athle-tic Conference, has won two straight league titles. This season the Torna-does are in second place in the AAC behind Tennessee Wesleyan, the nation's third-ranked NAIA team.
Bengtson said he turned down a similar scholarship offer from St. Andrews Presbyterian College, an NCAA Division II school, and drew interest from Metho-dist College and North Carolina Wesleyan at the NCAA Divi-sion III level.
After working one inning on varsity last season for Lum-berton, the Two Rivers Confer-ence champion, Bengtson has teamed with classmate Jordan Reisman to give the 2003 Pirates a potent 1-2 pitching punch.
In a team-high 40 innings Bengtson has permitted 26 hits and six walks while striking out 50.
“My control is what's really come around,” said Bengtson, who has a 4-2 record and a 1.40 earned-run average. “That's something Coach Hodges has pushed.”
Steve Beaudry can be reached at 739-4322, Ext. 118 or by e-mail at [email protected]