HAMLET — Playing for the Hamlet Post 49 American Legion baseball program this summer was just one of many steps in helping Ryley Norton commit to playing Division I baseball.
Last month, Norton verbally committed to Elon University. He took to Twitter to announce the news.
“I am thankful to announce my commitment to further my education and baseball career at Elon University,” the Tweet read on Dec. 14. “I would like to thank God, my family, my coaches, and everyone that has believed in me and supported me along the way!”
A junior who attends The O’Neal School, Norton was a big part of helping turn Hamlet’s program around into a winning season last summer.
He also became the fifth member of the team to commit to college over the past two summers.
In 2021, Ra’Nes and Ra’Nik Little, along with Trace Ricketts, committed to Cleveland Community College. Last summer, Cameron Way committed to Methodist University.
Recruited as a corner infielder, Norton said his relationship with Elon goes back two years. Since then, it’s been his top spot to want to play college baseball.
“It definitely feels good to be committed and it’s good to see a lot of hard work pay off,” Norton said. “For the last two years, Elon has been my No. 1 target and when they offered me, I jumped on it. Things are just getting started.
“I chose Elon because their coaching staff is really good and it’s a great academic school. Their baseball team is an up and rising program in a really good conference. I’m excited to be able to play there.
Norton added that Elon’s facilities were his favorite part, including the weight room and the new hitting facility.
Fielding interest from “several schools,” Norton was first put in contact with Elon with the help of his recruiting agent Josh Rudd. Watching him play two summers ago, Norton followed that by attending a camp.
Known for his powerful bat, Norton said the Phoenix coaching staff was impressed by his offense but wanted him to improve in the field. He used the past year and his time with the 49ers to do that.
This summer, Norton also played showcase baseball for the SBA scout team, the Padres scout team and the Wow Factor Coastal Patriots.
All of the hard work through the dog days of summer, along with another impressive showing at an Elon camp this fall, led to an official offer in December.
“I really liked playing for Hamlet and it helped prepare me for college,” Norton said. “In my first game with the team, I went 3-for-3 and that got the conversation started back up with Elon.
“Hamlet allowed me to get in a lot more reps, which helped with recruitment. Twitter was a big part of getting recruited because I was able to constantly post what I was doing on the field.”
Post 49 finished the 2022 season with a 14-10 overall record, 11 wins better than last summer, and earned the No. 2 seed in the Area 2 conference standings.
At the plate, the 49ers were led by Norton with a .485 batting average, and he was one of four players to register double-digit RBIs with 10.
“Ryley is a good kid who works really hard,” Hamlet head coach Chip Gordon said. “He’s all about baseball and will do whatever it takes to get better. He’s the type of player we want to recruit and he’s made a good teammate. I’m proud of him and hope he keeps pounding away.
“This is what it’s all about,” Gordon added. “We wanted to restore the tradition of Post 49 and also try to get the talent in this area to the next level. Our program is solely here to get players better and to have five players go to college in the last two years speaks volumes that we’re a competitive program.”
Elon competes in the Colonial Athletic Association and is coached by 27-year head coach Mike Kennedy. During his tenure, the Phoenix have recorded 19 winning seasons and 17 seasons of 30 or more wins.
In 2022, Elon went 27-28 overall with a 9-14 mark against CAA opponents. The Phoenix went 2-2 in the CAA tournament as the sixth seed.
With still a year and a half before he graduates in 2024, Norton has his eyes set on becoming the best baseball player he can be for the Phoenix.
“I really want to get better at everything,” Norton said. “I want to get faster, getting stronger is always something I want to achieve, and I want to keep tuning up my bat, building my arm strength and get better on defense.
“I’m looking forward to the great atmosphere on campus and the chance to play,” Norton, who plans to study economics, closed. “I love to work with the coaching staff and can’t wait to get out there and play.”