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Athlete of the Week: Johnson's A.J. Benefield

POSTED: March 26, 2012 11:27 p.m.

A.J. Benefield said it was the best game he ever played, and it’s doubtful he’ll get much argument.

In a 15-10 win over region foe White County on Friday, Benefield recorded three hits — a three-run home run, a two-run double and a grand slam — to total nine RBIs. To cap it off, he picked up the win on the mound in relief.

Coach Tony Wilson said the nine RBIs tied Benefield for the most by a player he’s coached.

For his efforts, Benefield has been selected The Times Athlete of the Week.

Going into the game, Benefield’s mindset was the same as ever: He wanted to have a good attitude, put good swings on the ball and put the ball in play.

When you can do that, he said, good things usually happen. But he never expected a performance like that.

“I always try my hardest and try to stay humble,” he said. “But after that game, even the next day I was still thinking how that was the best game I ever played. It’s easy to smile about, that’s for sure.”

And it came at a good time.

Wilson said that while Benefield had been a force on the mound for Johnson all season, the senior was still trying to get his hitting on track after joining the team late following basketball season.

After picking up two hits in each of the Knights’ first two games during the week, it was apparent things were starting to come around. Friday was a not-so-subtle announcement that he’s found his stroke.

“He’s worked hard and been taking some extra cuts,” Wilson said. “It paid off, obviously. He was more patient at the plate and was able to take advantage of some pitches.”

Already, Benefield had been one of the team’s leaders on the mound. With a 1.64 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 25 2/3 innings pitched, he had helped take the stress off a pitching staff Wilson said isn’t very deep.

“We don’t have a real deep staff,” he said. “So it’s nice when our starters can work long games. He’s done that well for us this year. Any time we give him the ball, he gives us a good effort.”

It’s a contribution the team can count on from Benefield throughout the season. While the individual performances are nice, he said, picking up wins as a team is still the most important thing to him.

“The team comes first,” Benefield said. “My teammates do a great job of getting on base in front of me, so my job is to try to get them across the plate. Luckily I was able to do that Friday. I was just happy I was able to finally put a full game together.”

It would be difficult for Benefield to be able to top that performance individually for the rest of the season or, perhaps, his entire life. But he said that as a team, the Knights can certainly top anything he’s done this season.

“Like I said, that’s the best game of my life,” he said. “And that’s exciting. But my goal is for Johnson to make the playoffs. That’s the only goal in my mind. Making the playoffs would top that individual performance any day.”

Despite a loss to Oconee County on Monday, he said that he’s confident his team can make that a reality.

“We just need to keep playing ball like we are,” he said. “Everybody needs to keep swinging the bat and playing quality defense.”

Johnson hosts Walnut Grove in Oakwood on Wednesday.


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