By Kyle Daubs
Even without a full season, Ben Hess (below) was still one of the best.
The Charleston High School senior officially signed to continue his baseball career with the University of Indiana earlier this week. He joins a recruiting class that ranks as the top of the Big Ten Conference and ranks 23rd overall in the nation.
In addition, Hess’s teammate, outfielder Ty Coartney (below), just signed with Lake Land College.
What makes Hess’s signing even more impressive is that he ranks as the top pitching prospect in the state of Illinois. This comes after COVID-19 wiped away his junior season, which is usually a critical time for college recruitment.
“Missing out on last season really made me appreciate the game a little bit more,” said Hess. “It taught me not to take it for granted.”
A stellar sophomore season was enough to catch the eye of Indiana pitching coach Justin Parker. The CHS ace helped lead Charleston to a 24-12-1 record in 2019 and its first Regional Championship since 2008. He finished the season 6-3 with 47 innings pitched, a 2.98 earned-run average, 84 strikeouts, and 24 walks.
However, there was one stat that stood out the most.
“Hard work and a great pitching frame have been his keys to success,” said coach Derrick Landrus. “His 95 mph fastball has been pretty free and easy to this point.”
Hess marks the first NCAA Division I prospect since CHS 2012 graduate Aaron Bence played for Murray State after transferring from Lake Land College.
“It’s exciting for Ben,” said Landrus. “We haven’t had a Division I guy straight out of high school for a while. We’ve had a few but most have taken the JUCO route.”
Hess said that he had interest from other schools in the Big Ten Conference, specifically the University of Illinois. In the end, he thought Indiana was the best fit.
“I have had an interest from the coaching staff since I was a sophomore,” said Hess. “It’s a good match for me. Keeps me close to home, so my parents can see me play. I knew when Indiana approached me that was where I wanted to go.”
He calls this a dream scenario.
“It’s just a dream come true situation,” said Hess. “Ever since I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was sign. It’s been a lot of hard work and perseverance. I’ve been keeping my goals in mind and have received a lot of help from my parents and coaches. A lot of teammates have helped along the way. It helps when you work with them every day.”
Now that one dream is crossed off, Hess will begin tackling the next dream and try and join the ranks of former CHS ballplayers Marty Pattin and Stan Royer in making the MLB.
“That’s the dream,” said Hess. “Obviously, you dream about going as far as the majors. It’s on my mind, but I am going to take this one step at a time. It’s definitely something to work towards.”
Landrus believes the sky’s the limit for his young hurler.
“I’m extremely proud of Ben,” said Landrus. “He has had a vision and a plan for quite a while now. He knows exactly what it takes and is very educated on college baseball, scouting, and the draft if it does come down to that.”
Hess joins an Indiana baseball program that is on the rise. Before the shutdown, Indiana had been 9-6 with wins over No. 11 ranked LSU, No. 17 ranked East Carolina, and No. 30 ranked South Florida. In 2019, Indiana finished 37-23, won the Big Ten Conference, and qualified for the NCAA Regional.
Hess is hopeful to propel Indiana to a dynasty in the Big Ten and continue their success.
“I’m going to go there and try and be the best teammate I can be and someone that can bring a presence in the locker room,” said Hess. “In terms of the field, I am going to go work every day and do my best and hopefully contend for a starting position.”