Fighting Scots’ outfielder and starting pitcher Blake Bennett’s participation in this past summer’s ‘USA Baseball Breakthrough Series’ showcase event (held in Cary and Durham, N.C.) was equal parts exhilarating and humbling for the Scotland senior.
Not only did he have the chance to compete against 80 of the top prospects in the country, Bennett also interacted with fellow players that have navigated a much more difficult road to their current success. Players that came from troubled backgrounds and impoverished communities who see baseball as not just a passion, but a means to rise above their surroundings.
That weekend back in June was just one chapter in a lifetime of experiences that have helped mold Bennett as a player and student. And as he continues to realize his potential on both the baseball diamond and in the classroom, Bennett has already secured his future when he graduates from SHS in May.
On Tuesday morning, Bennett made official his intent on continuing his student athlete career at Pfeiffer University next Fall.
“That showcase event really opened my eyes, and when it was all over I didn’t want to come home,” Bennett said. “Even though my senior year is bittersweet since it’s already halfway over, I’m going to do big things this when the baseball season starts.”
During summer league play that was perhaps a preview of the 2013 spring season, few players were as hot as Bennett. Batting third for the Fighting Scots under new head coach Jamie Coleman, Bennett not only led his team in hitting but also notched several dominant outings from the pitcher’s mound as well. The team would subsequently mow down nearly every opponent they faced through June and July, including nearly all of their Southeastern Conference foes.
“The summer was big for him in terms of his confidence and improvement as a player,” Coleman said. “He cut his swing down, learned to drive the ball and showcased his sneaky power. He is a joy to coach, and I’m glad I’ll have him this Spring.”
But before staking his claim as one of Scotland’s best hopes to repeat their 2012 conference championship season, Bennett’s parents remember their son’s passion and dedication for baseball that was unwavering since the age of 4.
“When he was younger we bought a solo hitter from (former Scots’ head coach) Tommy Britt, and once we did he would always turn up missing,” said Wendy Bennett, mother of Blake. “I remember hearing the ‘ping!’ from Blake hitting the ball every Sunday before church, and that just showed us how much he loved baseball. He tried other sports, but he always came back to what he loves most.”
As Bennett developed through the years, so did his now-trademark smooth swing that is every bit as compact as it is powerful. And there to help mold him has been ‘Athlete’s Choice Area Stars’ travel baseball coach Derick Graham, who recalls the raw natural ability that Bennett possessed in his early teens.
“When he joined the Area Stars, I had Blake bat third because I knew he would command that position,” said Graham, a former 13th round pick of the Cincinnati Reds and 4A state baseball champion with Hoke County. Graham made the trip from Fayetteville to attend Bennett’s official signing with Pfeiffer University Tuesday morning.
“You don’t see that many batters, especially ones of a smaller stature like Blake, come through the strike zone with as much force and control like he does. Watching him grow from a boy to the player and person he is now has been great,” he said.
With a decision made regarding his collegiate future and his still-developing ability, Bennett (who is also an honor roll student at SHS) is poised for a breakout season with the Fighting Scots in the home stretch of his senior year. But with improved play comes bigger expectations, and Scotland’s former head baseball coach of 20 years envisions one last great ride for Bennett in his Scots’ swan song.
“I liked Blake from the get-go, as both an all-around player with a lot of upside and as a bright young kid,” Tommy Britt said. “I’m extremely proud of him, and we are looking forward to seeing even more production out of him when the season begins again.”