TJ senior caps high school career as WPIAL all-star
Thomas Jefferson senior Jake Benack ended his high school athletic career with a sensational spring baseball season.
A two-year starter at second base, Benack led the Jaguars in hitting with a .491 batting average and compiled a .933 fielding percentage.
He also was named to the Class AAA all-star squad and participated in the annual WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association doubleheader showcase.
“I guess I (was) surprised and honored (for being selected). I never worry about stuff like that,” Benack said. “Coach (Pat) McGuire, my AAU coach for the last nine years, always taught us that playing baseball is a team effort, win or lose. Fortunately for us, we won over 200 games.”
Along with his team-best batting average, Benack, a (four-year) drummer in the school band, led the Jaguars in on-base percentage (.588), slugging percentage (.709), at-bats (55), hits (27), singles (17), doubles (8), triples (2) and runs (21).
“Jake is one of the best second baseman I have seen,” Gregg Fouts, Thomas Jefferson's head coach, said. “He hit .491 with incredible discipline at the plate. As a leadoff hitter, he set the stage for the game and the team.
“Jake also was a tremendous, consistent fielder. He had only four errors in 60 total (fielding) chances.”
TJ was the Section 4-AAA runner-up this season, finishing second to rival West Mifflin in league play with a 9-3 record.
The Jaguars, who opened the year at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., lost to No. 11-seed Knoch, 5-3, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs to end up 11-6 overall.
“Obviously, I am disappointed we didn't go further in the playoffs, but when you consider having four head coaches in three years, and the arm injuries to two of our top players, we had a really good year,” said Benack, who was born with cystic fibrosis. “When we finally had our first ‘official' practice, Coach Fouts (who most of us have known since we were kids) told the senior players we deserved to have fun playing baseball, and we all did this year.
“Personally, I wanted to make it to the state playoffs.”
Thomas Jefferson won seven of its last eight regular-season games to clinch the WPIAL playoff berth.
The Jaguars, who beat West Mifflin and Carrick in their final two section contests, were rewarded for their late-season surge with the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
“I thought the guys did exceptionally well considering the distractions of this season,” Fouts said. “The seniors were able to keep their composure, pull together and keep the winning tradition going.
“I am very proud of this team and the success they accomplished this season. This season has been a struggle, starting and stopping because of the weather. But the guys have learned how to have the mental discipline to manage and produce when they need to.”
Benack, who plans to continue his baseball career and major in electrical engineering at Gannon University, was a three-year varsity letterman in baseball in high school, and a four-year varsity letterman in golf.
He also earned four varsity letters as a member of the TJ band, along with two in the jazz band.
His favorite sport?
“I love to play golf but it has to be baseball. It is the first sport I learned to play,” said Benack, who was supported again this year by a large group of Jake's Cure-saders participants at this year's Cystic Fibrosis “Great Strides” fundraiser event at South Park (see page 33).
Benack has played AAU baseball since he was 9 — his AAU teams have generated an overall record of 212-78 with close to 30 championships — and he was in the Pit orchestra at TJ for spring musicals.
“I played drums and percussion for three years,” he said.
He also has worked for his father's company, Benack Sound Productions, on weekends.
Thomas Jefferson batted .319 as a team during the 2014 season.
Benack was complemented at the plate by senior outfielder/first baseman Eric Fairman (.396), senior third baseman Steve Kunzman (.385), senior shortstop Joe McHugh (.360), junior pitcher/third baseman Jeremy Wasik (.348), senior pitcher/first baseman David Stover (.340) and senior catcher/outfielder Jon Fouts (.267).
McHugh, a Pitt recruit, belted two home runs and two triples, scored 20 runs and had 16 RBIs.
Fairman was the team leader in RBIs with 17. He also accounted for 21 hits in 53 at-bats, which included 12 singles, five doubles, one triple and one home run.
On the mound, Wasik (4-1) and Nicco Marcheleta (3-1) recorded seven of the team's 10 victories this season; Wasik finished with a 3.06 ERA.
Stover led the team in innings pitched (31) and with a 2.03 ERA.
The top four teams in Section 4-AAA were West Mifflin (12-2), TJ (9-3), Elizabeth Forward (7-5) and South Park (7-5).
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.