Riverview's Benusa rides stroke to pro ball

| Sunday, June 21, 2009

One long out helped spark Riverview outfielder Gus Benusa's fast ride to professional baseball.

In a game against West Shamokin on April 24, Benusa launched a fly ball to the 410-foot notch in left-center field of PNC Park. The center fielder caught it up against the wall.

"It was so high and deep," Riverview coach Rich Griser said, "that we had a guy on first who was almost at third, and he was able to get back to first base without getting thrown out."

Benusa will test that power in the minor leagues. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Baseball Player of the Year was an eighth-round draft choice of the San Francisco Giants and will begin his professional career tonight with the Arizona Giants in the rookie-level Arizona League.

Benusa set Riverview records this season with his WPIAL-best .638 batting average and seven home runs. He also tallied 21 RBI, and was 3-0 as a left-handed pitcher. Instead of playing next year at Duquesne, he signed with the Giants for a $125,000 bonus.

"I'm not used to having any money at all," Benusa said. "Now, I'll see if I can hang with the big guys."

Griser, also a regional scout for the Tampa Bay Rays, knew since Benusa's freshman year that he had elite potential. But Griser's 6-foo-0, 190-pound center fielder fully realized it this season as a senior after playing for the Pittsburgh Bulldogs last summer with some of the top players in the area.

Benusa matured, put on 10-15 pounds and prompted Griser to call his scouting supervisor with the Rays to come see Benusa in a Riveview doubleheader April 24. The first game was against West Shamokin at PNC Park. And as an encore in the second game, at Riverview's field, Benusa hit an opposite-field home run the same day.

"Then he started getting a lot of attention," Griser said. "Then they all started getting on the wagon."

Count the Rangers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Brewers and White Sox among the professional teams to scout Benusa over the ensuing month. Griser said Riverview averaged 8-10 scouts per game before June's Major League Baseball draft, when the Giants nabbed Benusa and completed what, at this point last year, seemed surreal.

"I guess it didn't hit me until halfway through the season," Benusa said. "It just went so fast. I didn't have time to think about everything. It feels pretty good from last year to this point now."

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Baseball All-Stars

Tim Giel — Senior, Pitcher, Shady Side Academy

Led Shady Side Academy to the WPIAL Class AA title with a 10-2 record and 1.08 ERA. He struck out 128 in 77 23 innings ... Also hit .387 with 25 RBI ... Will play at Columbia.

Jon Wilson — Senior, Center fielder, North Allegheny

Hit .456 with 19 RBI and 17 stolen bases for WPIAL Class AAAA champion North Allegheny ... Also one of the area's best defensive oufielders ... Will play at Maryland.

Ben Rawding — Senior, Pitcher, Blackhawk

Fastball clocked at 92 mph helped him record a 9-0 record with an 0.43 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 48 innings. Led Blackhawk to a 18-3 record ... Will play at Mercyhurst.

Ben Bechtol — Senior, Catcher, Neshannock

Hit .471 with four home runs and 46 RBI ... Also stole 19 bases ... A 40th-round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers, he may decide to attend Jefferson State (Ala.) Community College.

T.J. Kuban — Senior, Third-baseman, Pine-Richland

West Virginia recruit hit .483 with 30 RBI, five home runs and nine stolen bases for the talented Rams. ... Named WPIAL Coaches Association Class AAA Player of the Year.

Tarran Senay — Senior, Center fielder/Third baseman, South Park

Hit .415 with four home runs and 19 RBI in 18 games ... Went 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 36 strikeouts as a pitcher ... A 38th-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers ... Committed to play at North Carolina State.

Tyler Mroz — Junior, First baseman, Chartiers Valley

Power — eight home runs, 35 RBI and .357 batting average — helped lead Chartiers Valley through its playoff run and first berth in the PIAA Class AAA title game.

Oliver Girman — Junior, Pitcher, Serra Catholic

Recorded 9-2 record with a 1.38 ERA as a pitcher, and hit .494 with four home runs and 37 RBI for PIAA Class A runner-up Serra.

Dillon Haviland — Junior Pitcher South Fayette

Threw no-hitter against Bald Eagle Area in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs and struck out 15 in a 4-0 two-hitter against Mt. Union in the semifinals ... His 10-4 record, 149 strikeouts and 1.56 ERA also landed him a scholarship offer to Duke.

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