Academic award adds to a big year for Bennett

Friday, May 30, 2003

When Central graduate Ross Bennett takes the field for today's NCAA regional baseball opener, the Baylor University senior will try to add postseason success to a career filled with accolades.

Bennett followed up a first- team all-Big 12 Conference season a year ago with an appearance on the second team this year. Despite missing three weeks due to injury, Bennett is third on the team in hitting at .376 and has added 46 runs batted in.

Along with being one of the top offensive performers for the region's No. 1 seed, Bennett recently gained national recognition for his work in the classroom and was chosen as a first-team Academic All-American. He became only the third athlete in Baylor history to earn the honor.

"It's quite an honor," Bennett said. "Anything to put a good name with athletics is great. It's good to be recognized for something positive."

Baylor will open the NCAA Tournament today against Murray State at Hattiesburg, Miss. And while Bennett's focus is on helping his team this weekend, he already looks forward to the challenges beyond the postseason. Bennett will attend dental school after baseball and plans to eventually return to live and work in Cape Girardeau.

"I've always been excited about being a dentist," Bennett said. "I've always shadowed my dad. I don't feel like going to dental school will be a disappointment as opposed to playing professional baseball."

Bennett, whose father, Mike, is a Cape Girardeau dentist, said he has talked with professional teams about playing in the minor leagues and will leave the option open if he is drafted or signed as a free agent.

"It's tough to turn off the competitive switch," he said.

More immediately, Bennett will turn his attention to the upstart Thoroughbreds. Facing Murray State will give him the chance to share the field with fellow Central graduate and Thoroughbreds pitcher Craig Ringwald.

"When I saw Murray State pop up with us, it was really exciting," Bennett said. "I've grown up with Craig. It will be exciting to see a familiar face across the field."

jjoffray@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 171

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