Courtesy photo/Leslie Gilmore - Ellison baseball players KJ Stark, sitting left, and Justin Dingman, signed scholarships to Temple College and Hill College, respectively, in a ceremony Monday at Ellison. Behind them, left to right, are Temple College coach Craig McMurtry, Ellison coach Kyle Allred and Hill College coach Chris Rateike.

By Alex Byington

Killeen Daily Herald

Justin Dingman and KJ Stark have been linked on the diamond for much of their lives.

Both as teammates and competitors, the Ellison senior baseball duo have remained close friends, despite a little spilled blood.

"He actually broke my nose one time playing," Stark said, referring to an incident several years ago when a Dingman-hit foul ball ricocheted off Stark's glove and hit him in the face during a Killeen Parks and Recreation league game.

That aside, given their long history together, it only seemed fitting Dingman and Stark decided to continue their baseball careers at the next level in a joint signing ceremony Monday at the Ellison library, albeit at rival schools.

Choosing the junior college route, Dingman signed with Hill College while Stark stuck closer to home, choosing to sign with Temple College - both in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference.

"It's going to be interesting next year to see us play against each other, (but) we're both really excited for this moment," said Dingman. "... This is a moment I've dreamed about since I was a little kid, signing that piece of paper in front of everybody, showing off what I've worked hard for all my life."

Following in the footsteps of former Harker Heights standout Korey Wacker, who signed with Maryland in July, Stark will move on to a Leopards program that advanced to the Junior College World Series last season.

"I think this will be a good place for me to take my talents and then move on from there." Stark said.

Now with their futures assured, the pair of four-year lettermen will try and lead senior-laden Ellison (19-12-1, 8-6 District 12-5A) to back-to-back playoff appearances following last season's area-round sweep by Lake Highlands.

Stark, a two-time All-District 12-5A first team selection, led the Eagles in hits (44) and runs (38), batting average (.423), on-base percentage (.551) and walks (29) while also recording 50 putouts in center field.

Dingman, who was selected as the Daily Herald All-Area first team catcher last season, had a team-high 43 RBIs and 46 hits - including 13 doubles - and a .411 batting average and tied for the team lead with five home runs.

"Between Dingman and KJ, they will help set the tone for us," said Ellison's first-year head coach Kyle Allred. "Defensively, they're going to be sound. Offensively ... probably the way they go during the game, hitting will be the way the team goes, too."

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