Chasing a dream: Barton’s Riker finds his swing at the right time

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From the obscure role of scouting and tracking and charting his team’s hitters, senior first baseman Chase Riker is flirting with a storybook ending to his three-year Barton College baseball career.

The Bulldogs, regular-season runners-up in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas, enter the conference tournament with Riker on the rampage.

Working his way into the lineup earlier this month, Riker’s numbers are off the charts — .455 batting average (15 for 33), .514 on-base percentage and .970 slugging percentage.

He has belted four home runs, a triple and three doubles and has driven in 15 runs in 18 games. Riker will be in the lineup for Barton’s opening tournament game Thursday against the Belmont Abbey-Chowan victor.

“It has been awesome for me,” admitted Riker in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon while en route with the team to the tournament  “It’s like a storybook ending.”

The late-season tear is somewhat bittersweet to the Bulldogs, considering Riker is a senior — but he’s really not.

Riker had earned 40 credit hours upon his arrival at Barton. He will graduate with a degree in business administration next month after just three years. He will then pursue his masters degree in accounting at North Carolina State University.

Riker explained N.C. State’s accounting is ranked among the top 10 in the country and reasoned he just did not feel he could turn down the opportunity. Thus, he will forego his final year of baseball eligibility.

Earlier proclaimed Conference Carolinas All-Academic and described as a “genius” by former head coach Josh Simmons, Riker spent his early years in the Chicago area before his family moved to North Carolina and he starred on the 2014 North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship team at Topsail High.

“I am excited about how the  team is playing,” Riker commented, “and, hopefully, we will play as long as possible. I love getting the opportunity to help.”

Opportunities were infrequent until earlier this month, but Riker insists he never became discouraged.

“But it was hard,” he admitted, “especially when we were struggling. That’s when you want to help out more. I was trying to figure out a way I could do more.”

However, Riker noted he benefited as a viewer in learning the tendencies of opposing pitchers.

“I just continued to do as (head) coach (Jim) Chester told me,” Riker remarked, “practice hard, prepare the best I could and wait my turn.”

Now, Chester and his assistants are delighted they can’t get Riker off the field.

“I have been fortunate to be seeing the ball well and hitting it well,” Riker downplayed his success.

But he assured the Bulldogs’ Senior Day observance last Saturday was “surreal.”

In six at-bats, Riker slammed five hits, including a pair of home runs and a double, drove in five runs and scored five as the Bulldogs locked up second place by sweeping a doubleheader from Southern Wesleyan.

His parents were present but his sister — and arguably his No. 1 fan — was not present because of studying abroad. But through the technological efforts of the siblings’ father, she was able to view the proceedings — as if she was in attendance.

“That she watched was really cool for me,” Riker exclaimed. “I saw the ball well, had good swings and got good results. It was quite a good day.”

The Bulldogs are looking for more.

“Riker’s a young man that was fresh and eager for an opportunity,” Chester said. “He got it and ran with it. He’s a good hitter and is more than adequate defensively. The power he has shown is a testament to how hard he has worked. Chase is having a good go of it right now, and we’re going to keep riding it.”

But Riker’s focus is upon the team continuing its recent success and playing beyond the tournament. If success eludes him the next few days, Riker insists he will be elated if the Bulldogs win the tournament.

“It’s about hoisting the trophy and getting a ring on your finger,” he contended. “That’s the one that’s going to matter 30, 40 years from now.”