USC-bound Dillon Paulson grows into leadership role at Santa Fe Christian
Asked about his most memorable experiences at Santa Fe Christian, former Eagles baseball standout Dillon Paulson instantly recalled the thrill of the perfect game.
Teammates hugged. Then they celebrated on the pitcher’s mound in a giant dog pile.
“A perfect game is such a team thing that you do,” Paulson said. “It was amazing to be able to do that with my friends.”
Paulson, a pitching standout in his own right, didn’t actually throw a pitch in that game. On that day it was his teammate Cole Acosta, who shone.
But the fact that the two-time Coast Conference Player of the Year, who will play for USC next year, counts a teammate’s accomplishment ahead of his own impressive body of work over three years on the varsity, points to the type of player Paulson has become at Santa Fe Christian.
And it is his team-oriented focus that separates the USC-bound Paulson from other baseball standouts at his level, said Eagles baseball coach Don Mitchell.
“He’s grasped that,” Mitchell said. “You get superior athletes and they don’t always grasp that, but he did.”
It wasn’t always that way for Paulson, who came to the program with an abundance of talent and an intensely competitive spirit, but without a full understanding of what his coaches expected of him as a teammate, Mitchell said.
He’s grown into a much different player.
“He came in as a high-profile athlete, a very good baseball player. We knew that about him when he came in, but we wanted to mold him into that team unifier and get him to do the things that really make Santa Fe Christian the successful (program) that we are,” Mitchell said.
“He’s accepted that role, and he’s excelled in it. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of about him.”
It’s one of the aspects of Paulson’s game that he takes the most pride in, too.
“I think at Santa Fe Christian, since it’s such a small school, you see your teammates around school all the time,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody in a small school like that.”
This year’s team was especially tightly knit, Paulson said, noting that the team had nine seniors, all of whom played together for four years.
And Acosta is one of his best friends.
“He’s the first friend I made in third grade,” Paulson said. “He just walked up to me at lunch and we’ve been friends ever since then, so to be a part of something like (the perfect game) with my best friend was amazing. I honestly can’t describe how good that felt for him and for me to be a part of that — it made it so awesome because he’s worked his butt off to get to where he is today.
“He deserved every single pitch of that game.”
Judging by his accomplishments at SFC, Paulson was very deserving of his USC scholarship.
The 6-foot-3 215-pound lefthander was as dominant as a pitcher can be over his senior year, going 8-0 with a 0.12 ERA with 73 strikeouts and five walks over 56 innings.
Over three seasons at SFC, he went 21-4 with a 1.28 ERA.
Perhaps the only thing that could keep Paulson off the mound at USC is his bat.
He also happens to be a dangerous left-handed hitter who hit .414 (29 for 95) with 16 extra-base hits, including four home runs his senior year. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) was a stunning 1.329. Paulson was a career .405 hitter at SFC.
Paulson led the Eagles to a league championship in his junior year and a second-place finish earlier this year. He was a first-team all-San Diego County selection in each of his past two years.
The Player of the Year honors he earned both years in league play, however, meant more because those who knew the player — not just the numbers — selected him.
“(The POY) is voted on by the coaches,” he said. “They’ve seen the hard work I put in and they saw how it came out in the way I played.”
Paulson credits his father, Dennis Paulson, a professional golfer, with instilling in him the work ethic and the competitive spirit that those who know him best have taken note of over the years.
He also credits his younger brother, Ethan, an up-and-comer in the Eagles program who’ll be a sophomore next year, with pushing him.
Paulson has come to exemplify the essence of what SFC’s program is about, according to Mitchell.
“When he gets into a game situation, he’s so mentally focused that it’s very difficult for an opponent to beat him,” Mitchell said.
“That rubs off on the team, because they see that in him and they recognize that if they want to excel, they need to be that same way.”
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