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Jaguars’ Benck making an impact on baseball diamond

Greg Abel SUDDEN IMPACT — Truman/Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain’s McKenna Benck hammers a delivery for a hit during recent high school baseball action in Truman. The freshman infielder has made solid contributions on the diamond for the Jaguars this spring. (Photo by Greg Abel)

TRUMAN — One position that Truman/Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain Jaguar head baseball coach Jordan Petschke has not worried about all year is second base.

That’s the main defensive position of the lone player Petschke had coached in baseball before, but she isn’t a typical high school baseball player.

McKenna Benck is the lead freshman on the Jaguars’ baseball team, mostly handling second base, but moving around when needed.

“She’s been fantastic at second,” Petschke said. “… I haven’t had to worry about that position, I’ve had to fluctuate at other spots, but second base has been perfect all year so far.

“She’s the top production-wise freshman for us. Top five in all the offensive stats: average, hits, RBIs. She’s the only starter this year without an error on defense. That’s a big thing for me — defense, defense, defense. … She goes up to the plate and hacks it. There have been plenty of games where it’s her and then maybe (Owen) Wolter are the only people who touch the ball. If a guy throws hard or something, it doesn’t matter.”

Benck said she has played baseball since she was 7 years old, always with the boys.

She said most of her free time is spent either playing basketball or baseball.

“We have a (batting) cage outside and a net in our living room,” Benck said. “We have tees and stuff and they (parents) hit me a lot of ground balls.”

McKenna’s mom, Katie (Schoener) Benck, played softball for the Fairmont Cardinals in high school, and earned numerous selections to the Sentinel All-Area, all-conference and all-section teams. Katie has helped teach McKenna her love of the diamond. McKenna said Katie wasn’t disappointed when she picked high school baseball over softball.

“She just wants me to do what I want to do,” McKenna said.

McKenna said she started playing baseball with her older cousins and decided she wanted to stay with it. After spending time watching Major League Baseball and going to Fairmont summer camps, Jaguar assistant coach Christian Petschke has high praise for Benck.

“In terms of baseball IQ, you’re the smartest player I have ever had or probably ever will have,” Christian said to Benck during a recent practice session. “Even when you were little in junior high, seventh grade for me, sometimes you would have to correct me on where you should line up. I was like, ‘Wow, just totaly smart.’ It’s really crazy.”

Jordan Petschke said part of the baseball smarts McKenna shows are because she watches baseball more than a lot of players he has coached. He said watching and learning from major league games helps teach players where they need to be in different situations, instead of coaches needing to take players through everything step-by-step.

Benck said she enjoys watching Minnesota Twins game and her favorite player Nelson Cruz, and having a family member working for the organization helps her get to see them in person.

She said other teams have had players and coaches asking questions or pushing back because she is playing baseball instead of softball, but good coaches and teammates have made sure that doesn’t happen on her teams.

Benck said she plans to continue playing baseball through high school and will play whatever position will help the team most. She said she likes baseball because there is always something to improve.

“I like how challenging it is and how competitive it is,” Benck said. “And there’s always something that you can do to get better.”

Jordan Petschke said he was relieved when Benck decided to keep playing baseball.

“She was the only one,” Petschke said of players he had coached in baseball. “So she knew a little bit of what I expect for baseball players. I’m glad we get to continue to work on it with her and the team. But, yeah, it was a relief. Freshman year, I thought, maybe she might play softball, but then I was like, she’s playing baseball. Awesome.

“She does everything right, she comes to extra practices, she’s a good teammate. She cheers on her teammates and attacks the batter’s box. She plays the game the way I want everyone in our program to.”

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