For the third time in Lander University baseball history, a former Rocky Mount player and the Greenwood, S.C. school have crossed paths.
In the early 2000s, former Rocky Mount catcher Jerry Edwards was an assistant coach there. Then last year, former Gryphon athlete Britt Johnson also made his way there as an assistant.
Now the first Gryphon athlete will be playing on the field for Bearcats.
Recent Gryphon graduate Thomas Berry has signed a national letter-of-intent to play baseball at Lander. The school (enrollment, 3,000), is a member of the D-II Peach Belt Conference (which includes UNC-Pembroke). Berry is expected to play first or DH for the school, which had one of the toughest NCAA Div. II schedules in the country last season. The Bearcats closed out their 2011 campaign at 29-24, but was nationally ranked earlier in the season.
Add in the fact that Lander is moving into a brand new stadium next spring, and Johnson is just waiting to see the lefty Berry knock them out over the fence in right center.
Berry just concluded a stellar three-year career as a Gryphon starter. The burly senior, who earned a ring as a freshman reserve on Rocky Mount's 2008 state title team, had his best season at the plate this past spring hitting .392 with 32 RBI, three home runs and 22 runs scored.
He concluded his career hitting .352, knocked in 67 runs (second only to Ben Fish on the all-time list) on 67 hits, slammed nine home runs and scored 53 runs. He also earned an astounding 52 base-on-balls, No. 2 on the RMHS career list to Brian Goodwin.
There is another RMHS baseball connection to Lander.
Former Gryphon pitcher Jim Leggett was signed by current Lander head coach Kermit Smith to play for Belmont Abbey when Smith was the head coach there. Leggett was forced to sit out his lone year there as a redshirt after shoulder surgery. Smith led that team to the NCAA D-II Baseball World Series.
And with Berry's help, that's what he and Johnson want to do at Lander.