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Hoosier trio goes from Poway High School sensations to impact players at IU

Baseball Feature

Alex Dickerson wanted the perfect balance between school and baseball. Drew Leininger wanted change and a new environment. Dillon Dooney wanted a close-knit group like he had in high school.

Tracy Smith wanted to make his program national.

It wasn’t easy and it needed a little bit of luck, but the Poway High School (Calif.) to Indiana Hoosier connection was built one player at a time.

Lofty Lefties

It began with Dickerson, the left-handed power-hitting outfielder.

Despite putting up All-State numbers and being named the 2008 San Diego Player of Year, the future IU All-American was not on most coaches’ radars.

“I got some looks at schools, but I was a little overlooked in my area and just felt like this was the right place to be,” Dickerson said.

In all likelihood this year will be Dickerson’s swan song at IU, as many scouts project the junior to be a first round MLB draft pick this June.

The next piece to the Poway puzzle was Dickerson’s southpaw classmate, Leininger.
As the No. 2 starter and MVP of the Poway pitching staff, which included Stanford’s Brian Busick, Leininger went undefeated during his senior campaign in helping Poway to a top-10 national ranking.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Leininger decided to stick to baseball and take his talents to the Midwest.

“I have lived in Southern California my whole life, so when IU came to watch me throw and then offered me a scholarship it was kind of something new,” Leininger said.  

The junior was the Friday starter for IU last season and at one point, held a 28 2/3-inning scoreless streak. Fresh off a 10-strikeout, one-hit performance Wednesday, Leininger finds himself in the middle of one of the deepest rotations in the Big Ten this season.

Going back to Cali

In 2010, Smith found himself trying to bust back into the Poway pipeline, this time in need of a right-handed bat.

As a sophomore in high school, Dooney played a crucial role at third base on the 2008 California Interscholastic Federation Championship team and looked to his former Titan teammates for college advice.

“I kind of liked the campus on my recruiting trip, and what kind of got me here was Dickerson and Leininger giving me some background information,” Dooney said.
“We were really close, all three of us, and Alex told me how the program is different from other schools and how the coaches actually listen and teach with hands-on work.”

The freshman has gotten 10 starts as a designated hitter in IU’s lineup this season, and with the graduation of seniors Jerrud Sabourin and Wes Wilson, along with Dickerson likely getting drafted, Dooney is expected to play a critical role in the middle of the Hoosiers lineup in 2012.

The three California Hoosiers who played under coach Bob Parry on that 2008 Poway team weren’t the only Division I players on the roster.

The Titans also sent players to national powers Fresno State, Gonzaga, Kansas, Oregon and San Diego State.

“We actually went back and looked and every single player in that starting lineup went D1 and our back-up right fielder actually got drafted,” Dickerson said. “We were a very good high school team. We had some fortunate coaching and it was a lot of fun back in the day.”
    
The way the West was won

When Smith took the IU baseball head coaching job in 2006, he knew his staff needed to market its program all around the United States, and he began to head out West.

“We wanted to kind of open up the recruiting avenues out that way, and through our former volunteer assistant Sheldon Watkins, he made the introduction to (former Poway pitching coach) Dominick Johnson,” Smith said. “Through Dominick and the things they did during the summer, we were able to see these guys and I think connect with these guys.”

Historically, the best college baseball is played in the West and South, but Smith began to make inroads in Southern California.

“Really all we tried to do was say, ‘come take a look at this place because once you look at this place, it sells itself,’” Smith said. “I think it has been very key because those guys have been the ones to make other people open their eyes and say, ‘Hey wait a minute, these guys went to Indiana.’”

The “So Cal” connection doesn’t stop in Poway, though, as Smith first saw Dooney while scouting sophomore pitcher and Oceanside, Calif., native Jonny Hoffman.

Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week Joey DeNato was a high school teammate of IU’s all-time hits leader Sabourin at Torrey Pines High School.

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native and freshman Ryan Halstead is one save away from passing Chris Squires for the IU single season record.

Smith said he knows keeping the relationships strong in Southern California will only continue to help the program grow.

“The Big Ten Network certainly feeds that because kids are able to see us play,” Smith said. “The fact that we have these current guys on the roster, it allows the parents to get together on the weekend, wearing the IU gear, and watch the games on the Big Ten Network. It’s been a huge plus for us and hopefully something we can continue.”

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