TEMPE — Benson may have lost to Scottsdale Christian 6-5 Saturday night in the 2A state championship game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, but the Bobcats’ program as a whole keeps winning under alumnus Fred Trujillo.
They returned to the state title game from last year for a rematch after defeating Scottsdale Christian for their first state championship since 1987.
That type of success was not the case when Trujillo took over the program at his alma mater in 2019. He is coming up on his 50-year reunion of graduating from Benson in 1974.
“This is setting the standard high for what’s expected from the program and we won’t take anything less,” said Trujillo, who was one of the top left-handers in the state his senior year with the Bobcats.
The program actually started shifting toward success under previous coach Dave Harbin, who coached the Bobcats to three straight winning seasons during his tenure after a stretch of eight consecutive losing seasons.
What has helped Trujillo take the program to a state-championship level is a year-round training regimen and competitive scheduling during the season.
Benson finished 20-10 overall with seven of those losses against 3A to 5A teams Desert View, Sabino, Pusch Ridge, Sahuarita, Mica Mountain, Snowflake and ALA-Gilbert North. The Bobcats beat 3A Tanque Verde, 5A Buena, 4A Buckeye and 4A Yuma.
They return 14 players next season, including six freshmen who Trujillo said are promising players.
A true mark of how Trujillo has the ball rolling with Benson is the player turnout at the school that has an enrollment of close to 400.
“We had 32 kids come out for the program, which is pretty good,” Trujillo said. “I mean, before they would have maybe 16 to 17. We’ve doubled that. They see what the end product is and they’d like to come and play in the playoffs and they want to learn how to play baseball.”
Trujillo has an extensive background coaching baseball since his days as a Seattle Mariners scout while working as an assistant at Pima Community College 20 years ago.
He is in his second stint with Benson after serving as its pitching coach for 12 years following his playing career at Scottsdale Community College and Eastern Oregon State College.
He also has served as a pitching coach of the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings of the Arizona-Mexico Baseball League, head coach at Pueblo and as an assistant coach with Cholla and Cienega.
Drove up I-10 to Tempe Diablo Stadium for the 2A state championship rematch between @Benson_Baseball and Scottsdale Christian (coached by Angels great Tim Salmon – pictured) from last year. Benson trying to repeat as state champions. Report later at https://t.co/CUU6F3Xdm1. pic.twitter.com/RXolZJCJRR
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 15, 2022
Trujillo seemingly stays young by being around his players.
“We’ve got some good kids coming up from the middle school or feeder school, so we should be okay,” he said. “They are telling me that we’ve got about eight or nine guys who can compete. So we’ll be okay. It’s gonna push these other guys, the sophomores who are going to be juniors.
“They’ll improve and they’ll get stronger. We’re gonna have to fill in some of these spots who are seniors, and I’m sure we will.”
The loss to Scottsdale Christian on Saturday was like a rollercoaster of emotions for both teams, who traded the lead three times.
The Eagles, coached by 15-year big-leaguer Tim Salmon, scored last with two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
With one out in Scottsdale Christian’s half of the sixth, Benson committed its fourth error of the game on a groundball by Jackson Geck. Coby Tabet and Corwin Hemmingsen followed with singles with Geck scoring on Hemmingsen’s hit to tie the game at 5.
With Tabet at third, a balk was called and Tabet came home to put the Eagles ahead 6-5. Angel Rigney, a junior right-hander, got the last batter to strikeout.
“I mean, this Benson team, they’re tough,” Salmon said. “We knew we were going to have our hands full and they gave us everything. They’ve got great pitching, great defense and timely hitting, and it was it was a dogfight all night long.”
Benson achieved its first hit off senior right-handed reliever Jack Montgomery, who pitched three innings, with a leadoff double in the seventh inning by senior Wyatt Wilharm. Salmon chose to intentionally walk senior Tristan Martinez to create a force out at any infield base.
Montgomery got the last three batters out on a strikeout, fly out and ground out to end the game, earning Scottsdale Christian its second state title under Salmon. The Eagles also won it in 2019.
Montgomery set the tone when he entered in the fifth inning and struck out the side. He recorded five strikeouts overall with one walk.
“I just felt amazing,” Montgomery said of striking out the first three batters he faced. “I’ve been waiting for this for a whole year. Last year, I was in a boot. I broke my ankle before playoffs. So I had to watch us lose this game last year. To get the chance to go against Benson again is amazing.”
The teams traded leads in the first four innings taking advantage of the other’s mistakes.
Benson had three errors and two wild pitches by then and Scottsdale Christian had four hit-by-pitches and two wild pitches.
Benson rallied for three runs to take a 5-4 lead in the top of fourth, answering Scottsdale Christian’s three-run rally in the bottom of the third.
Zach Laura led off the fourth with a triple and then Brok Determan and Antonio Rigney walked to load the bases. Angel Rigney was then hit by a pitch, scoring pinch-runner Gilberto Loya (running for Laura) to cut the lead to 4-3.
After a pitching change, Determan scored on a wild pitch and Wilharm hit a sacrifice fly to left field, plating Antonio Rigney to put the Bobcats ahead 5-4.
“We made a few mistakes that took us out of the game,” Trujillo said. “We made a couple of base-running mistakes that really hurt us and then they brought that guy (Montgomery) in who just spun the ball up there. We could never make an adjustment on hitting him.
“I think that was the turning point of the ballgame. We were going toe to toe with each other and then they brought that spinner in and we had trouble adjusting. We didn’t address it and that’s what happened.”
BENSON BASEBALL STATE CHAMPIONS
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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.