Dalton McNamara in his college baseball jersey and cap.

Dalton McNamara is the rare athlete who committed to a Division I program before he even made the varsity lineup in high school.

The 2019 Centennial graduate — recruited by University of Missouri after playing in a Prep Baseball Report tournament in Indiana in 2017 — officially joined the Tigers by spending the last four weeks on the campus.

“The coaches can’t coach us yet, but we were working out, taking classes, getting introduced to the program,” said McNamara, reached Friday while the 5-11, 170-pound shortstop was heading home from Columbia, MO.

McNamara helped the Centennial VFW team win the state championship in 2016 after his freshman year of high school. As a sophomore, he was still playing on the Cougar junior varsity. “I thought I could have been on varsity, but our coach felt we had better middle infielders,” McNamara said.

That summer, he attended PBR tryouts in Minnesota, and was picked for a team of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin prospects to display their skills at the Indiana tournament.

“There were about 250 college and pro scouts watching,” he said. Among them was a recruiter for Missouri who was impressed by McNamara and let him know the Tigers had a spot for him. McNamara verbally committed that fall and signed his national letter of intent last November.

As a Cougar varsity rookie his junior year for coach Rollie Goertzen, McNamara had a spectacular season, batting .578 at 37-for-64 with a homer, two triples, six doubles, 24 runs and 16 runs-batted-in. Then he slipped to .316 his senior year with the Cougars.

“My first year, nobody knew who I was, and I was getting good pitches to hit,” said McNamara, who bats left and throws right. “This year, I wasn’t getting good pitches and started trying to do too much. But I made some adjustments and picked it up at the end of the year.”

McNamara played for the Minnesota Blizzard, a club team, for five years. He suited up for both Blizzard and VFW during the championship season, but did not play VFW or Legion ball after that. About playing for the club team instead, he said, “You play about the same number of games, but you get a lot more exposure to colleges.”

At Missouri, McNamara thinks he’s joining a college team on the upswing. The Tigers were 34-22-1 this season, including 13-16-1 in the daunting Southeastern Conference, in their second year under Steve Bieser, who was hired after winning three Ohio Valley Conference titles with Southeast Missouri State.

“Bieser turned the program around at Southeast Missouri, and at Missouri, he’s got all the right tools and a lot more resources,” said McNamara, who plans to major in sports management. “I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

McNamara is especially pleased to have a chance to play in the SEC, which produced four of the eight entrants in this year’s College World Series.

“The SEC is the best conference in the country,” he said. “If you can make it there your chances of going pro are a lot better.”

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