BY STEVE KRAH
Michael Dillon thrives on the big moment.
He is the one that wants the baseball in his hand while standing in the middle of the diamond with the game on the line.
A right-handed pitcher, Dillon has fed his fire the past two springs as the closer at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“They put me in that role mainly because I like to compete,” says Dillon. “I can’t slip up and I have to be in-control.
“They saw that in me when I stepped on-campus.”
A 2019 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., Dillon hurled the first four innings of the championship game as the Royals won the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title his senior season.
The Hamilton County Player of the Year and first-team all-Hoosier Crossroads Conference performer went 9-1 with 79 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings and was chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison.
A varsity player from sophomore year on, Dillon was on team’s led by Scott Henson and Jeremy Sassanella (as a senior).
Dillon got to compete with and against older HSE Henson-coached talent, including Class of 2018’s Sam Bachman (now in the Los Angeles Angels system) and Carter Lohman (who pitched at the University of Louisville) and 2016’s Matt Gorski (now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization) and Andrew Bohm (who pitched at Purdue University).
“Coach Sassanella had a style of coaching where we knew he loved us and he was going to battle for us,” says Dillon. “He was able to push us but also let us (as seniors) take the ship as far as we wanted to go.”
Among Dillon’s classmates was Tyler Schweitzer (now in the minors with the Chicago White Sox) and Jack Dewolf.
“We just loved to compete,” says Dillon. “We had that teammate-brotherhood rivalry.”
Dillon began his college career at Xavier University in Cincinnati, playing for Musketeers head coach Billy O’Conner.
“I really enjoyed it there,” says Dillon. “Xavier plays one of the toughest schedules in the country. I wanted to compete against the best.”
The pitcher did not get into action in 2020 — a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. He was going to play in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., but got COVID and never got back into it.
He has trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., every winter in high school and some beyond.
In 2021, he made 14 mound appearances (all in relief) and was 0-0 with one save, a 3.10 earned run average, 21 strikeouts and 18 walks in 20 1/3 innings.
After the season, Dillon began exploring other opportunities and went into the Transfer Portal.
That summer he was going to play in the CSL, but decided to focus on his next stop while working at Pro-X Athlete Development in Westfield with Jay Lehr.
Lehr played baseball and football at Carmel (Ind.) High School with John Dillon — Michael’s father — and is a close family friend.
“He helped me a ton with mechanics and just getting my arm back on-time,” says Michael Dillon of Lehr.
After viewing Dillon’s video on Twitter, the Nova Southeastern coaching staff — led by Laz Gutierrez — reached out and he wound up with the NCAA Division II Sharks.
“The Sunshine State Conference is no joke,” says Dillon, who turned 22 in February. “There’s a ton of stars in this league to play with and against and the location is hard to beat.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here and that’s why I’m coming back for that fifth year.”
In his first campaign at NSU (2022), Dillon made 21 trips to the bump (all in relief) and was 1-1 with 14 saves, a 1.73 ERA, 22 strikeouts and six walks in 26 innings for a team that went 36-17 overall, 17-13 in the SSC and competed in the NCAA D-II South Regional.
In the summer of 2022, Dillon joined the California Collegiate League’s Orange County Riptide (Irvine, Calif.).
This spring, Dillon — fighting through elbow fatigue — made 15 appearances (14 in relief with one mid-week start) and was 2-2 with five saves, 4.95 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 12 walks and 20 innings.
The Sharks went 26-23 overall and 15-15 in the conference.
“Last year started out hot,” says Dillon of a squad that began 17-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. “This year we were hit by injuries and other things.
“Every returning guy is hungrier now.”
His summer of 2023 plans as of now do not call for playing in games. “This summer I’ll be lifting and getting my body right,” says Dillon. “I’m going to perfect my change-up.”
He plans to stay in Fort Lauderdale and is taking summer classes to complete his Entrepreneurship degree.
“I’d like to be my own boss someday,” says Dillon.
In the fall, he begins work on a graduate certificate program while getting ready for the 2024 season.
Will he close or start?
“It depends on what our team needs,” says Dillon. “I’m into filling any role.”
Dillon, who is 6-foot and 180 pounds, keeps hitters off-balance with his breaking ball command. He employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. The former middle infielder delivers from a high three-quarter arm slot.
His four-seamer has been clocked at Nova Southeastern at 88 to 91 mph.
He “grew to love” his two-seamer this spring — a pitch that usually travels 87 to 89 mph.
Since about third grade, Dillon’s put-away pitch has been his slider.
“I can throw it in any count,” says Dillon. “It’s more of slurve. When mine’s on it has really late, sharp break (at 79 to 82 mph). I like to land it and throw a sharper one later in the count. I usually get my swing-and-misses on those.
“I use the curve to change the eyes of the hitters.”
Born in Carmel, Dillon spent his younger years between Carmel, Fishers and Louisville before landing back in Fishers.
He was in rec ball with the Fisher HSE Cats and was coached by his father from third grade until high school. He then played for the Indiana Prospects and the last two summers of travel ball for the Midwest Astros.
John and Kelly Dillon have three children — Michael, Hannah and Brooke. John Dillon is in medical sale. Kelly Dillon is a project manager. Hannah Dillon is in medical school at Indiana University. Brooke Dillon (Hamilton Southeastern Class of 2023) is headed to Florida Atlantic University in the fall. Both girls played volleyball at HSE.