Qualifying for the regional finals - one round away from the state tournament - is an accomplishment in itself, never mind the fact that one of the teams left competing did so without a true home stadium.
Benbrook (28-5-2), which play Kilgore (30-7) in the Class 4A Region II final in a three-game series beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Mike Carter Field in Tyler, practices and plays its home games at Fort Worth ISD’s Lon Goldstein Field, which is 15 miles from campus.
The third-year program plays at a school that was built in 2011 as a middle school.
“They’re battling through the aches and pains of a brand new school,” said Benbrook head football coach and boys athletic director Cody Slater. Those kids have used it to bond with each other and be more of a family. Our slogan when we started was ‘family all-in’ and they’ve really bought into the family culture and it’s paying off.”
FWISD’s plans is to build Benbrook a new $6 million stadium that will be ready by next season.
The new complex will be located on the northwest corner of Dutch Branch Park, which is located off Highway 377 near Benbrook Middle-High School. It will include baseball and softball fields, concessions, restrooms, dressing rooms and additional parking.
For now, head baseball coach Justin Chavez is making the most with what they have.
“It’s really tough and guarantees us an hour a day because of travel,” Chavez said. “We make the most of it. We make it motivation. These guys didn’t want to be mad at anyone, just mad at the situation and to take it out on every single team we played this year. Our motto has been ‘No field, no problem.’
“But it is tough. We don’t get a full practice in because of traveling and I have to get them home on time, and we have to coach three teams there, but we don’t let that discourage us. We push those kids hard everyday and it’s really showing now.”
A success for the whole district
Fort Worth district leaders said the Bobcats’ success is one felt by the whole district.
“It’s wonderful,” said Norman Robbins, the school board member who represents the campus. “They are an extraordinary group of young people. They have made us very proud.”
Superintendent Kent P. Scribner wished the team good luck before their next round of games.
“We are proud of the Benbrook High Bobcats baseball team,” Scribner said in a statement. “They are a dedicated group of student-athletes who have overcome a variety of obstacles to get to where they are. We wish them continuing success as they play in that rarefied air of championship baseball. Go Bobcats!”
Robbins said the team excelled even though they didn’t have their own facility. He said the new fields are supposed to be ready in January 2020.
“It is an extremely important project for that community and one that they were waiting on for many years,” Robbins said, adding that he hopes the baseball program will continue to succeed in upcoming years.
“I do believe they will go even farther when they have a field close by. It has been a hardship for them to drive all that way for practice and for games,” Robbins said.
Class of 2019
The Bobcats have seven seniors this year, so they’ve put on a lot of mileage during their high school careers.
But it’s only helped get the team closer.
“I probably have spent a third of my high school life on this bus,” said senior pitcher Xander Carrasco, who will continue his career at UT-Dallas. “Normal teams will go their separate ways after practice. Not us, we have to get back on the bus and drive back to school, which helps us become much closer.”
“It humbles us,” senior first baseman John Henson added. “Driving back and forth all those miles let’s us create a bond. We have fun and talk to each other, get some guys to open up a little more, and that allows us to come out on the diamond and trust one another.”
On May 21, during a school board meeting, Henson presented Scribner with a baseball signed by the players. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Henson told the board that he and his senior teammates were disappointed they didn’t have their own stadium.
The seniors hoped a home field would be ready in time, but they graduate on June 1 without playing on their own Bobcat field.
“Our goal this year was to win district and to see how far we could go into the state playoffs. We won district. We are still playing,” Henson told the board.
Benbrook, which went 29-30-1 during its first two seasons, is coming off a 2-1 series win over Longview Spring Hill in the regional semifinals. Sophomore pitcher Devin Jennings struck out six batters during a 5-2 victory in Game 3.
Freshman Hunter Rudel drove in the game-winning runs with a single in the sixth.
“It’s hard sometimes, but it’s a good experience,” Rudel said.
“We do it for the love of the game,” Jennings added.
Game 2 between Benbrook and Kilgore will take place 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Dallas Baptist University. Game 3 will be at Rockwall High School at 7:30 p.m. Friday if necessary.
“Credit to the coaching staff and the kids,” Slater said. “They’ve worked hard and had a goal at the beginning of the year at reaching state. They do all the little things right and as an athletic program and community, we’re super proud of them.”
Added Chavez, “to be in our third year of varsity and to be where we are, we’re just riding the wave and very blessed to be apart of history.”