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Elijah Dunham gets set to take a swing in Sunday’s game.

Roster construction for the Ocean State Waves has followed a similar blueprint the last few years.

The team’s back-to-back runs to the New England Collegiate Baseball League championship series have been driven by players from schools outside the power five conferences, but with strong baseball pedigrees. Programs like Kennesaw State, Southern Mississippi, Bryant and Winthrop have all established pipelines in Wakefield.

The Waves have continued down that track this summer, but they didn’t mind making an exception – especially for the player they got out of the deal.

Elijah Dunham is the first player in franchise history from the Big Ten conference, hailing from Indiana University. In his second year in the NECBL after playing for the Plymouth Pilgrims last summer, Dunham has been a star, boasting a .327 batting average, two home runs and nine RBI in his first 15 games.

“Elijah is a very talented player. He handles his business like a professional on and off the field,” general manager Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “He is one of our most team-oriented guys and a leader on the field and in the clubhouse for us.”

A native of Evansville, Indiana, Dunham hit .250 as a freshman for the Hoosiers in 2018, playing 36 games. He headed north to Plymouth for his first year of summer ball and hit .286 with seven home runs. He torched the Waves in the playoffs, going 5-for-9 in the Southern Division finals series, though the Waves prevailed.

With Plymouth’s franchise ceasing operations in the offseason, Dunham signed on with the Waves and headed to Old Mountain Field, where he played his final game last summer.

“Last year was great. I loved the organization, but I’ve been having a great time this summer, too,” Dunham said. “I’ve been lucky to have two great summers up here. And having the experience, I think gives me a little more confidence going into this summer.”

Dunham is eager for a strong – and healthy – summer after missing the start of the spring season with a hand injury. Once he returned, he led the Hoosiers in hitting, finishing with a .310 average and eight home runs. Indiana went 37-23 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament, bowing out to eventual College World Series participant Louisville in the regional round.

“I broke my hand at the beginning of the year, so that was kind of a setback,” Dunham said. “Other than that, it was a great season and a great year.”

The Hoosiers have made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. They were looking for a return trip to the College World Series, which they last qualified for in 2016.

Hirschbein-Bodnar was happy to connect with a program like that. Dunham’s teammate Justin Walker also came to Wakefield but has since departed.

“Our new relationship with Indiana will hopefully develop into more pro prospects that will help our ball club compete for an NECBL title,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “It’s always great to get guys from great programs like that.”

Dunham is hoping for improvement this summer, while keeping an eye on his future. As a draft-eligible sophomore due to his turning 21 before the draft, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the final round. He has until July 12 to decide if he will sign with the Pirates or return to school. Players are typically drafted after their junior seasons, so Dunham is likely to get another shot next year if he does head back to Bloomington, with the potential to go higher in the draft if he has a good spring.

“We’re still negotiating,” he said. “From talking to them, I’m pretty sure they’re going to use the whole deadline and see who signs from the guys picked before me. I’m just having fun with it and waiting to see what they say.”

If he signs, he’ll also have to leave the Waves. They’d be happy to send him off as another future pro for the franchise, but they’d be thrilled to keep him in the lineup.

The team’s first Big Ten player has been the perfect ambassador.

“It will be tough to continue to get guys that come with the complete package that Elijah brings every day on and off the playing field,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “He’s been a pleasure to have this summer, not only between the lines, but he’s been a true leader, as well.”

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