Benson Bobcats proving that a 2A team can compete with anybody

Benson alum Fred Trujillo is trying to coach the Bobcats to a second consecutive state title (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

BENSON — The small-town feel of Benson baseball belies the big-time aspirations of a program that has three state championships and eight state runner-up finishes in program history dating to 1962.

The Bobcats won a Class 2A state title last year under alumnus Fred Trujillo for the first time since 1987 under Ken Smith. Their first title in state competition was in 1963 with James Cummings as coach.

The field adjacent to high school resembles that of a city park with no press box and wide-open spaces to left field beyond 400 feet and a short distance to the right about 265 feet with double-layer fencing going about 30 feet tall to prevent an abundance of home runs.

“Basically, what we do here is teach them how to hit to the opposite field because we have a short porch, and some of the teams we play, they have a short porch,” Trujillo said. “We teach them to hit the pitch that’s away to the opposite field.”

Adapting to situations and challenges is the method to Benson’s success throughout the years.

In Monday’s 24-10 win over longtime Cochise County rival Tombstone — a short 24 miles down State Route 80 — the Bobcats hit three home runs well beyond that double-layer fencing as part of a 19-hit attack in a battle of two top 5 Class 2A teams in the state.

Seniors Wyatt Wilharm, Zach Laura and Antonio Rigney were the players who homered for the Bobcats, who swept the regular-season series from No. 2 Tombstone (13-8, 4-2 in the 2A East). Benson, the No. 4-rated team in the state by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, is now 13-7 overall and in command of the 2A East at 6-1.

“Those were legit home runs — they were hit pretty hard,” Trujillo reasoned. “They would’ve been out in basically a lot of the fields we play in.”

Being a 2A team with an enrollment of less than 400, Benson feels like it must state its case and it has a history of backing that up.

Only three region games remain for the Bobcats, but three non-region games against quality competition are also still on the schedule. They host another local rival, St. David, the defending 1A state champions, on Thursday. They also play against 3A powers Sabino (on the road Monday) and Pusch Ridge (at home April 25).

This type of scheduling falls in line with Trujillo’s philosophy of being the best by playing top teams no matter their classification.

They played in the Cowboy Up and Lancer Hardball Classic tournaments in Tucson and faced higher classified teams such as Tanque Verde, Snowflake, ALA – Gilbert North, Sahuarita, Buena, Buckeye Union, Yuma and Desert View and went 4-4.

They also took Mica Mountain, a 4A school, to the limit before losing 10-8 at home March 9, but beat visiting 3A school Empire 10-9 two days later.

“I like going to tournaments where we can play 5A schools,” said Wilharm, who is batting a phenomenal .600 with 42 hits in 70 at-bats. “We competed against them.”

“I know they’re good,” Rigney said of the competition, “so we have to play our best. Teams in the state tournament are going to be good, too.”

Trujillo, a 1974 Benson grad who was one of the top pitchers in the state as senior left-hander, has come full circle in his coaching career. He has served as a pitching coach at Cienega (when the Bobcats had Nick Gonzales as an infielder), head coach at Pueblo and assistant with Cholla before returning home to Benson, where he lives.

He developed the underdog mentality starting from his playing days at Benson when he became an all-state selection after going unbeaten and throwing a no-hitter in 1974.

“We don’t get very much respect; we’re a small school,” Trujillo said. “You just start building a solid program. You do a lot of work and the kids get better. When you start winning a lot, other coaches and scouts notice. Then they say, ‘Maybe there are some kids in Benson who can play.’

“It’s just a lot of hard work with assistants and the kids. For a small school, we play year round. Other than a couple of weeks in the winter, we’re doing something baseball-wise year round.”

The hard work included running 30 sprints of 40 yards after Monday’s convincing win over Tombstone, which was ranked No. 1 in the state a couple of weeks ago.

One of the umpires joked with assistant Alex Montijo about Trujillo being too harsh on the players after a big win.

“They’re used to it,” Montijo said, smiling.

Those sprints are symbolic of why Benson is in position to compete for its fourth state title, including a repeat from last year’s championship performance.


Benson’s 19 hits matched with Tombstone’s 10 errors were the reasons why the Bobcats rallied from an 8-0 deficit in the first inning to win 24-10.

Eight of the Bobcats recorded at least two hits, including Antonio Rigney (3 for 4 with three runs, a home run and three RBIs), Cameron McFarland (3 for 3 with three runs and an RBI) and Laura (2 for 4 with a home run and four RBIs).

Wilharm, bound for Dickinson State on a baseball scholarship, went 2 for 4 with three runs and two RBIs on his home run and his batting average actually went down from .606 to .600.

Dalton Crockett, a sophomore, settled things down after Tombstone’s eight-run first inning by scattering five hits in four innings of relief with seven strikeouts and no walks.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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