Photo of Riley Bender courtesy of ACU Athletics
BELTON-The trajectory of the 2024 UMHB baseball season continues to project upwards, as Abilene Christian (D-I) transfer Riley Bender confirmed to True To The Cru that he will be joining the Crusaders this fall.
An infielder who started six games for the Wildcats this past spring, Bender comes to UMHB with two years of eligibility remaining. To date, he is the fifth incoming transfer announced for the 2024 campaign.
“At this point in my career, I have two years left,” Bender told True To The Cru on Sunday in an interview that will be published on Wednesday. “I wanted to go somewhere that I’m wanted and where I could have the best experience that I could possibly have. [Head coach Mike] Stawski [and UMHB] seemed like they could give that to me, so that’s why I made the decision.”
In 11 games in 2023, Bender hit .120 in 25 at-bats, including a 2-for-3 performance in a March 26 win over Sacramento State. The Kingwood, Texas native posted a batting average of .400 in eight games played as a true freshman in 2022.
Though his limited playing time thus far at the collegiate level has not necessarily shown it, Bender possesses an explosive bat, with a powerful swing that revealed itself time and time again during his four seasons at Kingwood High School. As a senior in 2021, he hit nine home runs and led all 6A players in the state of Texas in that stat category.
“Riley was one of our Team Captains and our offensive leader his senior year,” Kingwood High School head coach Kelly Mead told True To The Cru. “Riley is a team player and leads on and off the field.
“His work ethic is a true testament to his character. Riley was selected as a GHBCA (Great Houston Baseball Coaches Association) All Star his senior year as well. UMHB is getting a great baseball player, and an even better young man.”
During that senior season, Bender helped Kingwood to a 25-11 record, as the Mustangs won a playoff series over Dobie High School. A shortstop, he was ranked by Perfect Game as the No. 369 shortstop and the 500th best player nationally in the Class of 2021.
A scouting report by Perfect Game said this about Bender coming out of high school: “A right-handed hitter, starts with and upright stance and uses some hand rhythm for timing. Strides closed and stays on the ball, looks to get the bat head out and pull the ball with authority.”
Bender has been playing in the Texas Collegiate League this summer for the Victoria Generals, where he is currently hitting .220. A well-respected league that regularly features D-I talent, Bender has faced his fair share of quality pitching, especially since he typically hits fourth in the lineup for Victoria. He has tallied a hit and an RBI in each of Victoria’s last two games.