April 1, 2009
When Ben Fleming signed a scholarship to play baseball at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., he believed it was an opportunity to play for a championship.
Fleming, a junior outfielder from Columbus, is halfway through his first season at Southern Polytechnic, and he still believes the team has a chance to win a title.
Southern Polytechnic (29-4), of the Southern States Athletic Conference, is off to its best start in school history and is ranked No. 3 in the NAIA Coaches Top 25 poll.
"There''s been a tradition here since coach (Matt) Griffin has been here," Fleming said. "He''s gotten really good players. They''ve been good every year since he''s been here, and seem to get better as the years go on."
Southern Polytechnic is 9-3 and in second place, behind Berry College (11-2), in the SSAC standings.
Southern Polytechnic had a 16-game winning streak before a 13-3 loss to SSAC preseason favorite Lee University, of Cleveland, Tenm., on Monday.
"We''ve got a lot, a lot of talent," Fleming said. "Coach and them do a real good job of recruiting. We don''t let winning go to our heads because we know we can get beat."
Fleming, a 2006 graduate of New Hope High School and transfer from East Mississippi Community College, is hitting .338 with five home runs, 19 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 23 games.
He hit three home runs in a recent five-game stretch, connecting against Southern Wesleyan University on March 13, Shorter College on March 20, and Bryan College on March 23.
Fleming has missed 10 games because of a sore elbow and shoulder, but he said he is feeling better.
"He''s been a big part of our team''s success," Griffin said. "He''s had some arm problems, but now his arm is pretty decent and he''s back in the outfield.
"He''s a big part of what we''ve done. He''s a good athlete. He comes ready to play every day, and he plays hard."
Two of Fleming''s recent home runs were against conference rivals -- Southern Wesleyan and Shorter.
"That''s what we''re trying to do, win a conference championship, and move on as far as we can in the postseason," Griffin said. "He''s been a big help in that regard, as well as non-conference games. He''s a steady player."
The 6-foot-5 Fleming is playing left field after starting the season in right. He switched because of an injury to left fielder Mason Heller.
This is just Fleming''s second season in the outfield. He played shortstop and at the infield corner positions at New Hope. He didn''t play in the outfield until last season at EMCC.
"At New Hope I played shortstop until I grew, and once I grew and got a little less mobile, I had to go to the corners," Fleming said. "(Playing in the outfield) hasn''t been much of an adjustment. There seems to be a little bit less pressure. You don''t have quite as many tough plays. It took a little adjusting to it, but all in all you just have to see it and catch it. That''s all there is to it."
Griffin has been pleased with Fleming, who has made just one error in the outfield.
"He''s doing well," Griffin said. "Ben''s an above average defensive outfielder. He''s got a good arm. He''s got good speed. He tracks the ball well. He''s a good outfielder, no doubt.
"It''s not surprising to me because Ben is such a good athlete. He runs well. He can shoot the lights out on the basketball floor. He''s just a great athlete. Usually great athletes can make adjustments really quick, and he''s definitely done that."
Southern Polytechnic has won two SSAC Tournament championships and has been to the NAIA regionals three times in Griffin''s six-year tenure.
Fleming has set a goal to help Southern Polytechnic win a championship and add to its tradition.
If Fleming can do that, Southern Polytechnic will fulfill the expectations he had when he signed.
4. Walters column: Noxubee County rarely backs away from challenge HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU men's basketball releases non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS