Dillon Miller came into his senior year as a three-year starter with a career batting average of .450.
But Miller had a few things on his mind coming into his final season. First, the Arkansas Activities Association switched from aluminum bats to BBCOR bats, which are made to act more like wood bats.
Second, Miller was coming back from a torn labrum in his right shoulder, which he suffered toward the end of last June.
Finally, Miller was no longer the single-season leader in doubles for Woodlawn after Ryker Smith hit 19 the year before. Miller set the record during his sophomore season.
All three of those factors did little in holding Miller back as he maintained his career average by hitting .459 in more than 100 at-bats in Woodlawn’s three-spot. He took back the single-season record in doubles with 20 to go along with 50 runs, five home runs, 40 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
Miller, who has accepted an offer to be a part of Arkansas Tech’s baseball team next year, earned the Pine Bluff Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Hitter of the Year accolade with his performance at the plate this year.
“It gets kind of surreal and it was a lot of hard work,” said Miller of earning the award.
Woodlawn coach Tommy Richardson said Miller simply had a great year.
“You look at the numbers, and that’s a tremendous compliment,” he said.
The award came with a lot of hard work for Miller and the rest of his teammates. Richardson, who coached Woodlawn to its third title this past year, had his players reworking their swing before the season began to get used to the new bats.
Even though Miller had a .450 career average, he was not exempt from the extra workload.
“We started to change our swings last summer and have been working on it ever since, and it seemed to work,” Miller said. “We knew we were going to have to generate more power with our hips than just our hands.
After taking so many swings with the new bats, Miller started to learn the how different the news bats were compared to the old aluminum bats.
“These new bats, you can’t chase out of the zone and if you hit it on the end, it’s going to go nowhere,” he said. “You have to be selective with your pitches and the more I swung it, the more I realized it was like a wood bat and I guess I just adjusted.”
Even with the new bats, Miller did not miss a beat this past season, Richardson said.
“He did it all year,” he said. “He started the year hot and ended the year hot. He is the best RBI guy and when we put guys on, he drove them in.”
It was really hard for Miller to get used to the new bats as much as his teammates since had surgery on his shoulder in mid-September.
Miller went through physical therapy and was able to start taking part in baseball activities again in January. At first, Miller was concerned if his shoulder would hold up.
“I was very concerned and I had no confidence in it, but my dad and coach both reassured me,” he said. “Mr. Buddy from White Hall Physical Therapy Center did a great job getting me back, and right away in the season when I swung, my shoulder did not bother me.”
Miller is a third baseman but also pitched for Woodlawn. He said it took until about mid-season when he felt comfortable throwing at full strength.
Richardson was a bit concerned that Miller would lose some power because of the injury.
“He did lose some strength, and he lost some weight practicing so hard,” he said. “But he’s a hard worked and no one is going to outwork him. It paid off for him.”
Miller will have to sit out his freshman year at Arkansas Tech, though. He will redshirt because he has to have Tommy John surgery soon.
“Hopefully if I recover correctly, I can come back stronger,” Miller said. “I plan to pitch and play third base at Arkansas Tech.”
The best part of the season may have been regaining the doubles record from Smith since he gets the bragging rights back.
“Last year he said we were switching to the new bats and that I won’t get it back,” Miller said. “I saw him the other night and I mentioned it to him, and he just smiled and shook my hand.”