Ohio’s would-be hit king

High school records are a tricky thing, especially on the state level. People are pretty particular about compiling stats when it comes to football and basketball and even track & field but some, like baseball, are tougher to corral.

The folks at Madeira thought Andrew Benintendi had set the all-time hits record for the state of Ohio on May 3. According to the OHSAA’s record book page on its web site, Benitendi had passed Dan Ruff of Lancaster Fairfield Union with his 201st career hit in a game at Deer Park. The OHSAA site does state that all records should be considered unofficial.

As it turns out, the unofficial record actually belongs to Mark Lewis of Hamilton, who had 222 hits for the Big Blue from 1985-88. Lewis was taken No. 2 overall in the 1988 draft by the Indians and eventually played 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with six different teams, most notably the Indians and the Reds.

Instead of owning the record, Benintendi is back on the chase that will require the Mustangs to make a run in the postseason if he’s to recapture the title of Ohio’s hit king. He is nine hits behind Lewis after a double in the first inning of Wednesday’s Division III sectional final against Summit Country Day raised his season hits total to 57 and his career mark to 213.

Benintendi was intentionally walked in his second at-bat before a thunderstorm forced the game to be suspended at the end of three innings with the score tied 2-2.
The senior, who has signed a letter of intent to play at Arkansas, has taken the record, its revision and the continued pursuit in stride.

“It was pretty special,” said Benintendi. “I’d known before the year started what I needed and when I got it, it was a special because that meant a lot of hard work had paid off.”

It’s also meant a lot of opportunities to drive in runs for his cousin, Zack Jansen. Benintendi has broken the runs scored record – unofficially – that was 172 by Doug Paullin, Jeromesville Hillsdale, by crossing the plate 199 times.

The latest came Wednesday when Jansen drove him in with a groundout in the first inning for Jansen’s 50th RBI of the season and the 178th RBI in his four seasons. That puts him third on the OHSAA’s compiled list and just 12 RBI behind the record of 190 owned by Ruff.

The two have played on the same team since they began playing the game.

“Early on my dad was our coach and his dad was the assistant coach,” said Jansen. “We play about 80 a summer when we played for the AABC and that was the best competition we could face in Cincinnati. The jump from AABC to varsity wasn’t as big as it was from knothole to varsity for other players. I guess we had played so much baseball we picked up on it quickly.”

They are the first two batters in the lineup for manager Jack Kucniczki.

“I hadn’t really batted behind him but with my stats last year and the year before I was a threat so maybe they wouldn’t walk him as much,” said Jansen. “They obviously don’t want to face him but facing me isn’t easy.”

Benintendi has played center field and been the leadoff hitter the last two summers for the Midland Redskins, one of the country’s top amateur programs that counts Lewis, Ken Griffey Jr., Indians’ reliever Joe Smith, Mets’ rookie starting pitcher Matt Harvey and Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer among its many alumni who have gone on to play in the Major Leagues.

“He looks like a motion offense player that I call them – bunt, put it on the ground and beat it out to first, outrun guys and everything else – but the next thing you know this guy is popping it over your head and into the gap,” said Brian Hiler, general manager of Midland. “He’s effortless defensively. He gets a great read off of the bat and gets a great jump to the ball. He reads the ball off the barrel of the bat extremely well. He’s a gap-to-gap guy who can cover that well. If this guy is three inches taller he’s a big-time draft pick but he’s 5-11.”

Madeira has been to the state tournament four times under Kucniczki, winning a title in 1999 and finishing as runners-up to Canton Central Catholic two seasons ago. If the Mustangs (24-5) can get past Summit Country Day and make another run to the state tournament, Benintendi just might overtake Lewis.

“After the season Andrew will be up there in a lot of things,” said Kucniczki of the unofficial record book. “I think when he played for Midland that humbled him a little bit because he’s playing with some awfully good players there.  He’s just one of many there whereas here he’s the man. When he plays here I think he realizes that when gets to the summer he’s going against top competition. When he gets to Arkansas he’s going to be playing against top competition. He knows.

“He’s not the typical small-school kid. He knows there’s good competition out there and he’s got to step up when he gets out of here.”

**Story update**

Benintendi’s career and Madeira’s season came to an end Thursday afternoon as Summit Country Day rallied with three runs in the top of the seventh inning for a 5-4 victory in the completion of Wednesday’s suspended game. Benintendi received three intentional walks, including one with a runner on first and one out in the sixth inning, following his double in the first inning. He ends the season with a .564 batting average and closes out his career with 213 hits.

Benintendi was due up fifth in the seventh inning for Madeira (24-6) but the Mustangs went down in order. He showed off his defensive abilities in the top of the seventh with a perfect one-hop strike to home that forced a Summit runner to hold at third on a single and keep the game a one-run deficit for Madeira.

Summit Country Day (18-10) advances to play in the district final Friday against either Middletown Fenwick or Waynesville.