Gainesville High senior Zach Bennett turned more than a few heads last Wednesday against Johnson.
Bennett hit a career-high three home runs — all in his first three plate appearances — in the Red Elephants’ 18-2 win over the Knights. A lofty accomplishment for a player who endured offseason surgery to remedy repetitive knee dislocations.
Entering the game the Red Elephants’ pitcher/first baseman had only double that home run total in the previous three seasons combined.
Bennett’s future plans include playing baseball on the college level. But right now Gainesville High is his main concern.
"Right now I’m just trying to have a good time in high school," Bennett said. "I’m trying to have fun with the people I’m with."
While the 6-foot-1, 200-pound first baseman hasn’t officially made any commitments to play at the college level, he has been participating in college prospect showcases. However, the most important thing for Bennett is bringing back the prominence of Red Elephants’ baseball.
"A lot of the players have come to realize that it’s our senior year and some of the tradition has left Gainesville," Bennett said. "We don’t want that to be the case our last year.
"We want to give it all we have our last time around."
The end result has been dedication not only on the field, but off the field as well, according to Gainesville coach Wayne Vickery.
"(Bennett is) a lot stronger and more physical (this season)," Vickery said. "He’s been working a lot harder in the weight room, and now he’s hitting the ball farther."
That was demonstrated on March 8 when the Red Elephants traveled to play at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro — which has a lengthy porch of 385 feet to center field — for games against Statesboro High, Jonesboro and Glynn Academy.
Bennett never homered at Clements Stadium in Statesboro, but came close twice.
"He would’ve had two more home runs if we hadn’t been playing at Georgia Southern," Vickery said. "It would’ve been out of any park we play at in this region."
Bennett’s combined efforts with fellow Red Elephants senior and Georgia signee Robby Hefflinger have provided depth in third and fourth spots of Gainesville’s lineup, which has helped the Red Elephants average seven runs a game en route to Class AAA’s No. 9 ranking according to gasports.com.
"We have a great player in Hefflinger, and we need a good player to protect him," Vickery said. "Zach has done a great job in doing that."
That team chemistry has been essential to Bennett’s final year with so many seniors that he has played with for years.
"We’re a really close group of guys," Bennett said. "When one of us gets down, we have six or seven other guys to pick him up."