University of North Carolina-Wilmington pitcher Ronald Hill recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Hill is one of the Colonial Athletic Association's top starters and is a returning senior for the Seahawks. After setting a school record with a dozen wins during his junior campaign, Hill was recently named to the National College Baseball Writers Association's Preseason Third Team All-America.
The 'Hawks opened the 2005 season last weekend with a two-game home series against Maryland-Eastern Shore, winning both games by a combined score of 26-0. Hill picked up the win in Sunday's game, throwing five shutout innings and striking out six.
RONALD HILL, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA-WILMINGTON
SCS.com: You went to E.A. Laney High School in Wilmington. What other colleges did you consider, and why did you ultimately choose the hometown school, UNC-Wilmington?
Hill: "Well, growing up I always told myself I was going to leave and not attend UNCW. They ended up being the school that showed me the most attention and loyalty in the long run, and that's why I ended up choosing them. I signed early and I didn't really have much time to think about any other schools. The only other one I was really interested in was South Carolina."
SCS.com: In addition to pitching, you were a great hitter in school. You hit nearly .500 and were named All-State in North Carolina your senior season. Why did you decide to concentrate on pitching, and do you think your past success in the batter's box helps you think more like a hitter when you are on the mound?
Hill: "Well, to tell the truth, it was not my decision to stop hitting. When I got to college, they told me I was no longer a hitter. My sophomore year in college, though, I did hit. After a round of pitchers' BP that I hit well in, they decided to let me swing it for the rest of the year. I ended up getting about 25 at-bats that year. Then they shut me down again the next year. I really do think it helps me on the mound though. I don't give hitters too much credit, because I know how it feels to be in the box and it's not easy."
SCS.com: You had a fabulous season in 2004, throwing a career-high 104.1 innings and finishing the season with a mark of 12-4, setting the school record for wins in a season. You started 16 contests, throwing three complete games and finishing with an ERA of 3.62. How were you able to be consistently successful last season, and how honored were you to be recognized among the best players in the conference last year?
Hill: "I was proud of how everything went. Our team did great, and we had three players selected for the all-conference teams. I feel I was able to be consistently successful throughout the season because of our very demanding preseason. I took pride in my workouts and conditioning. Our strength coach, Jim Mayhew, is great; he knows how to push you so you want to make yourself better. Also it was my third year, and I had a few starts under my belt. I felt very comfortable on the mound all year. Lots of run support didn't hurt."
SCS.com: You have steadily improved during your time at UNCW. You won two games your freshman season, seven your sophomore year, and as previously mentioned, a dozen last spring. From your sophomore season to last year, your ERA improved dramatically from 5.10 to an impressive 3.62. What do you think is the most significant factor in your consistent improvement while playing for the Seahawks?
Hill: "I just think it is how they groomed me. Our coaches did a good job of giving me innings and helping me gain knowlege with each start. I learned from my mistakes and made adjustments. The coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done and show confidence that I can. I take that on the field with me."
SCS.com: Coming into your senior season, you have begun to be recognized on a national scale. The National College Baseball Writers Assocation named you a Preseason Third Team All-American. What does this national exposure mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Hill: "Well I have a lot of pride in UNCW. I feel we don't get the respect we deserve for our accomplishments over the past couple of years. Even in the polls and rankings this year, we still didn't get any love. I will take any exposure our school gets on any level. I am very happy that I was chosen for the All-American team, but I'm even more excited that I have UNCW next to my name on the list."
SCS.com: After finishing second in the CAA during the regular season, the Seahawks hosted the conference tournament and won two games on the final day to come away with the championship, the first in UNCW history. How exciting was it not only to win the tournament but also to do it in front of the home fans?
Hill: "Besides walking into 'The Box' at LSU for the first time two years ago, it was the best feeling I have ever felt in baseball. I remember looking up at all the fans holding signs and cheering for us and thinking it doesn't get any better than this. The fans did an outstanding job of sticking with us throughout the tournament. We played two games on the last day as you said, and not one fan left their seat for either of the games. It's just great to have support like that. It shows how far UNCW baseball has come in just the three years I have been on the team."
SCS.com: The CAA Tournament championship meant you advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. You stayed in state and were sent to the Kinston Regional, hosted by East Carolina. The 'Hawks knocked off the SEC's Tennessee Volunteers twice in as many days and advanced to the championship before falling to ECU. How much more intense is postseason baseball compared to the regular season, and what was the atmosphere like in Kinston?
Hill: "Well when you play a team like ECU in Kinston, you can't really explain how the fans are. All I can say is that they love ECU and hate anybody else that walks on the field. The level of baseball is very intense compared to the regular season. You never know if your next pitch is going to end your season or take you to the next game. There is a lot more focus on each play and each situation. That's the situation every player wants to be in. That's what we play for. I want the ball in the big game."
SCS.com: Seven position starters and a total of eight pitchers who accounted to start all but one game last season return for the 2005 campaign. What are the expectations for this year, and how do you feel this season will play out?
Hill: "I feel there is an expectation for us to get it done this year on every level. In the past, we were looked at as a small school that played hard, and you never knew what you were going to get. The expectation this year is that everyday we are going to be a challenge for anyone we play. I think this season we will open some eyes. I am very excited with our team and how well we are coming together right now. I expect big things from our boys."
SCS.com: Playing at UNC-Wilmington has allowed you to play on the road at some of the bigger-name schools' stadiums. During your three years on campus, you have visited Arizona, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Georgia, and NC State, among others. This year's schedule has road trips to both North Carolina and Duke. Where is your favorite place to visit on the road, and how do you usually find the atmosphere to be in opposing teams' stadiums?
Hill: "My favorite place we have ever played was LSU. The fans were great; they are true baseball fans. I loved just being a part of that whole atmosphere. On the other places, it just depends on the fans. Most of the stadiums are great places to play, but places like ECU and South Carolina have outgoing fans. They make it a very hard place to go into and focus throughout the game. On the other hand, though, it makes it a much better feeling when you walk out with a win."
SCS.com: Several of your teammates from recent seasons are now playing baseball professionally. Jamie Hemingway was the 2003 Team MVP and was selected in the 23rd round by the Atlanta Braves. Also in 2003, pitcher Jake Mullis was selected in the 15th round by the Kansas City Royals, while another pitcher, right-hander Brad Overton, was taken in the 26th round by Philadelphia. Have you had a chance to talk with any of those guys currently playing professionally, and if so, what advice have they given you about your senior season and a possible pro career in the future?
Hill: "Actually Jamie Hemingway and Brad Overton still live in Wilmington now, and I spend a lot of time with those guys. For the most part, they have told me to enjoy my last season as a Hawk and make the most of it. They felt like they put way too much pressure on themselves with the Draft and all. I feel I'm going to try and take their advice and just soak everything in this year."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Mark Scalf, is a graduate of UNC-Wilmington and is in his 14th season as the head man on campus. The team has had 40-win seasons for two consecutive years and has made trips to the NCAA Tournament both seasons, the only two times in school history. During his tenure at UNCW, twenty-six players have gone on to play professionally, and he eclipsed the 400-win mark late last season. What makes Coach Scalf such a great coach, and how has he been able to get some of the top talent to come in and play for the Seahawks?
Hill: "I feel Scalf does a great job of just staying on top of everything. He makes sure we do things right day in and day out, on the field and off. I give Scalf some credit with getting players in here, but the assitant coaches do a lot with getting players to come. Randy Hood and Scott Jackson are the hitting and pitching coaches, and they really do a good job of selling the school."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Hill: "It has to be winning the (CAA Tournament) championship last year. Just to know I was part of something bigger than me was great. I can say I was part of the first CAA championship in school history. It doesn't get any better than that."
SCS.com: Many athletes have role models that guide their athletic and personal lives. Who is one person you look up to on the field and one person you admire off the field?
Hill: "I have to say Roger Clemens is the person that guides me on the field. He works as hard as anyone off the field so he can be successful on. I admire that. I feel that's what I have had to do throughout my athletic career. My mom is the one I look up to off the field. She has been a single mother raising me and my brother for the past ten years. She has had many jobs and will go to any length to provide and give me and my brother every opportunity to succeed in life. She is my insperation in everyday life."
SCS.com: What are a few things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Hill: "I consider myself a movie fan. I like to watch as many movies as I can. I just love the fact that you can get caught up in a movie and almost be in another place, kind of like an out-of-body experience. Besides movies, I like to play golf...or hit golf balls in the woods. That is usually the outcome. I have a strong drive that I take pride in, but besides that, the rest of the game can use some work."
SCS.com: If a young baseball player was reading this and aspired to become successful in the sport, what advice would you give him?
Hill: "The advice I would give all young players is be like puddy. When I say be like puddy, I mean listen to your coaches and let them form you and your game. I have had a lot of great coaches growing up, and I don't think I would be where I am today without them. I listend to what they had to say and worked hard to make the adjustments no matter how different or wrong it felt. The harder you work, the luckier you will be on the field."
SCS.com would again like to thank UNC-Wilmington's Ronald Hill for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Seahawks the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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