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June 8th, 2007

Nick Hill, Milan Dinga Selected Early In First-Year Player Draft

Nick Hill & Milan Dinga. Photo Credit: AAC.
Although neither has thrown a single pitch in an Army uniform in nearly a month, both Nick Hill and Milan Dinga continue to rewrite the Black Knights’ baseball annals.

Prior to this year, Army never had one of its baseball players selected in the top 10 rounds of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. All of that changed on Friday as standout pitchers Nick Hill and Milan Dinga were chosen in the seventh and 10th rounds, respectively, by the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels during the second day of the two-day selection process.

After establishing or tying 46 school and Patriot League records on game, season and career levels across a brilliant four-year collegiate career, Hill was chosen with the 11th pick of the seventh round (225th overall) of the Major League Baseball 2007 First-Year Player Draft by the Mariners on Friday afternoon. It marked the highest spot in which an Army player has ever been chosen in the draft.

“It’s really an honor to be selected by the Seattle Mariners in the draft,” Hill explained from his home in Bluff City, Tenn., where he watched the results of the selection process unfold online. “This is just the first step of where I want to be. Hopefully, some day I can make it to the Major Leagues.

“I’d like to thank my family and everyone at West Point, from my coaches and teammates to all the officers at the Academy, for all their support over the years,” he added. “I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by great people.”

Dinga authored a similarly impressive resume during his tenure at the Military Academy, establishing or tying 30 Army and Patriot League records on game, season and career levels. The dual-position standout earned four All-Patriot League certificates during his time at the Academy, starring both at the plate and on the pitcher’s mound. Selected with the 24th pick of the 10th round (328th) overall) by the Angels on Friday, the hard-throwing right-hander will focus his efforts as a relief specialist.

“This is just a dream come true,” stated Dinga, who followed the developments of the draft online from his brother’s home in Orlando, a short distance from where the draft was actually held. “When I saw my name pop up on the computer, it was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

“To be thought of so highly by the Angels is quite an honor,” the Tampa, Fla., native added. “I’d like to thank my family and friends and everyone at West Point for all they have done to support me over the years. None of this would be possible without their help.”

Hill concluded his West Point baseball tenure at the Patriot League Tournament last month as the most decorated player in the program’s history. A two-time All-America choice and the first player in Patriot League history to win conference pitcher of the year honors outright three times, Hill also stands as the first player since the league’s inception to earn first team all-conference honors four consecutive years.

The Bluff City native (Sullivan East H.S.) became the first player in Army history to claim All-America honors on two occasions, garnering national accolades during each of his first two seasons at the Academy. Last summer, he became the first Army player since Steve Reich in 1993 to earn a spot on the USA National Baseball Team. Hill fashioned sterling numbers in helping Team USA win the gold medal and a second straight FISU (International University Sports Federation) World Championship. The native of Bluff City, Tenn. (Sullivan East H.S.), posted a 4-0 record with one save and a sparkling 1.48 earned run average in seven appearances for the Red, White and Blue. He allowed just 15 hits and four earned runs in 24.1 innings pitched, while striking out 26 and walking only nine.

Army’s all-time pitching victories leader in the modern era, Hill authored a spectacular career record of 33-12 and stands fourth on Army’s career list in earned run average (2.20) and fourth in winning percentage (.733). He ranks as the Patriot League’s career and single-season record-holder in both victories and earned run average, and became both the conference and school career leader in strikeouts and innings pitched earlier this year. The standout southpaw piled up 336 strikeouts over 327.2 innings pitched during the course of his Army career. He also boasts seven career shutouts, a mark that tops both Army and the Patriot League.

A four-year letterwinner and the ace of the Black Knights’ pitching staff since his arrival as a freshman, Hill pitched in 51 contests (50 starts) during his West Point career, allowing two or fewer runs in 33 of those outings. He did not yield more than three runs in any of his 13 starts this spring, finishing 7-3 with a 1.91 earned run average. He struck out 100 and walked only 18 in his final campaign. During his time in the Black Gold and Gray, Hill limited opponents to a meager .212 batting average (247-1163). He posted a 16-3 career record (.842) with a 2.81 ERA during regular season Patriot League action and finished 3-0 in Patriot League Tournament play.

Despite being ineligible to sign a professional contract last year, Hill was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 49th round of last year’s First-Year Player Draft as a show of respect. After not being selected through the first five rounds of the draft which were held on Thursday, Hill turned on his computer at the start of the second day’s activities at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call from a representative of the Mariners telling him that Seattle would use its seventh-round pick to select him if the record-breaking left-hander were still available at that point. The scenario unfolded moments later.

Dinga learned of his professional fate in a similar manner at about the same time on Friday as he received a call from a Los Angeles Angels scout shortly after the selection process resumed. Dinga was told he would be chosen by the Angels early during Friday’s action. Less than 30 minutes after Hill’s selection by the Mariners, Dinga was grabbed by the Angels in the 10th round.

The finest closer in Army history, Dinga successfully converted a school- and Patriot League-record 27 career saves. He regularly dominated batters during the late innings for four consecutive years while at the Academy, blossoming into one of the nation’s top relief specialists. Dinga successfully converted 27 of 29 career save opportunities, including 23 in a row during a three-year span that ended in his next-to-last collegiate appearance this spring.

He was scored upon just five times in 61 career appearances, registering a microscopic 1.14 earned run average during that time. The "lights-out" stopper permitted just seven extra-base hits (all doubles) during his Army career, posting 28 consecutive appearances without allowing an extra-base hit during a stretch that spanned his junior and senior seasons. In all, he did not yield a triple or a home run across his collegiate career en route to posting a 4-1 record with 27 saves. A four-year letterwinner, he fanned 71 and walked only 10 for a remarkable 7:1 strikeout-walk ratio, allowing just 43 hits in 63.1 innings pitched.

Scored upon just once during both his junior and senior campaigns, Dinga scripted a school record consecutive scoreless appearance streak of 32 that spanned his junior and senior years, before yielding two runs during his next-to-last career outing. In six career pitching performances against arch-rival Navy, he went 1-0 with three saves and did not allow a single run. He struck out four, did not walk a batter and yielded just three hits in 5.1 innings of work versus the Mids.

Dinga was selected a third team All-America relief pitcher by the National Baseball Writers Association last season and a preseason first-team choice by the same organization this winter. He remains a strong candidate for this year’s national Stopper of the Year Award after posting a 2-0 record with six saves and a 0.92 ERA this spring.

Should Hill and Dinga be accepted into the U.S. Army’s Alternative Service Option program, they will owe two years of active service in the Army, during which time they will be allowed to play baseball in the player development systems of their respective organizations and assigned to recruiting stations. If they remain in professional baseball following those two years, they will be provided the option of “buying out” the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years of reserve time.

Former Army standouts Josh Holden (baseball), Brad Roberts (hockey) and Pete Bier (football) are currently involved in the program. Schuyler Williamson, the most recent Army graduate to the selected in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft when he was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in 2005, participated in the program for one year, before retiring from the sport in order to pursue his Army career.

Along with Hill last year and Williamson in 2005, Mike Scioletti is the only other Army player to be selected in the professional baseball draft. He was chosen in the 43rd round by the Chicago White Sox in 1998. Scioletti did not elect to sign a contract with the major league club, entering the Army, instead.

After signing contracts with their respective clubs in the next few days, both Hill and Dinga will be assigned to minor league teams and begin their professional careers in the weeks ahead.

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