Thursday, May 24, 2012

Childhood Friends and Teammates Contributing to No. 1 Belmont

Belmont Freshmen Jamie Ritchie (L) and Matt Beaty (R)
As eight and nine-year olds growing up in Buford, Georgia, Matt Beaty and Jamie Ritchie did all of the things that good friends do. They hung out a lot and spent the night at each other’s homes, often staying up all night playing video games. Ritchie’s mom was actually Beaty’s fourth-grade teacher, so they also had that in common. And of course they played baseball together.

Beaty and Ritchie played together four years until prior to their seventh grade year when Beaty’s family moved to Northwest Tennessee. Ritchie says that while he had a speed advantage over Beaty, Beaty was superior on other areas, including at the plate.

The two kept in rare contact through MySpace over the next four years, but didn’t see one another or really talk until their junior year in high school. That is when, in an interesting twist of fate, Belmont assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Scott Hall began recruiting Beaty and Ritchie. As Hall began contacting them, how could he know that the two knew each other and had been good friends? Ritchie recalls that it was during a conversation with Hall that he learned about the possibility of playing once again with an old friend.

“Coach Hall and I were talking, and he said ‘I am going to tell you a name, and you tell me what you think.’ I got excited and told him that Matt was a really good player and that he definitely should keep recruiting him. He had no idea that we knew each other.”

The recruiting process continued, and a trip was orchestrated so that they both visited on the same weekend. They saw each other for the first time in years at the hotel, and they immediately began catching up.

“The experience was very exciting. I really enjoyed the visit to Belmont and liked what it had to offer, so I committed first,” Ritchie says. “Matt had other schools looking at him, so it took him longer to commit, but I like to think that I had a little influence on his decision to come to Belmont.”

As freshmen both have made an immediate impact on the Bruins. Beaty earned membership to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team after leading Belmont in triples (5), home runs (7), and RBI (42) during his first season in Nashville.

“I was a little surprised about making the All-Freshman team, because I didn’t have the year I wanted to at the plate,” says Beaty. “But I was able to come in immediately and have some success and contribute to a good season for us, and now we are the No. 1 seed in the championship.”

Beaty started 54 of the 55 games in which he played, while Ritchie also started in 38 of the 48 games in which he saw action. Beaty was sixth on the team with a .257 average, while Ritchie hit .217 with 15 RBI.

“Jamie did a spectacular job behind the plate this year, and he deserves a lot of credit for the success of our pitching staff as he directed and kept things under control behind the plate,” says Beaty.

Ritchie echoes praise for his long-time friend and teammate. “We lost a few seniors who were hitters from last year’s team, and Matt filled in very well as a freshman with power. He is also a versatile infielder and he has done a great job at third base, which is his natural position.”

The two are also roommates, which Ritchie says had made the transition from high school to college life easier for both of them.

“The great thing about a team is that it is about camaraderie,” Ritchie says. “The closer to your teammates that you feel, the better you play. Even though Matt and I had not seen each other for a while, it makes it easier to adjust to college life when you already know someone coming in. That has been a key for us feeling at home here.

“Being roommates is an interesting situation, because I am more laid back, while Matt likes to change the way the room is arranged every two or three months. We both keep things in order, but I just go along with whatever changes he makes.”

Even though the duo played in their first A-Sun Championship tonight, they understand that their efforts were a part of defending last year’s title. Last year Belmont won the championship as a No. 6 seed, but this year their fortune places more pressure as the top seed. The Bruins entered the championship winners of their last five and six of their last eight, along with two wins against the Hatters in the regular season (23-4, 5-0 on March 23-24).

“Lately we have been trying to get back to playing the caliber of ball that we are capable of,” says Ritchie. “We hit a rough patch mid-season, but we have picked it up lately. We have won several in a row now, plus we had some success against Stetson during the season so I think that gives us an edge.”

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