She is a cornerstone of New York’s reigning Class B state softball champions, starting shortstop and cleanup batter recognized last spring as first-team all-state. She has a crack at graduating with the uncommon distinction of starting for three state championship teams.
She has been entrusted as caretaker of Windsor’s precious Rally Bat, that pink Wiffle Ball swatter that serves as game-day inspiration– and occasional slump-buster, when first kissed, then smacked by a teammate against a struggling batter’s helmet.
In the Lady Knights’ first handful of games, the stat sheet revealed a batting average flirting with .400 to go with a couple doubles and nine RBIs, courtesy of her deftness wielding the DeMarini CF5 that is so near her heart.
Nevertheless, from a seat on the softball field’s bleachers on a recent sun-splashed morning, Emma Benson said of her senior year to date, “It’s definitely been rough, and weird.”
She was a starter for Windsor’s basketball varsity and a field hockey all-star, but softball has long been her passion.
Her leap from the modified team as an 8th-grader to varsity shortstop as a freshman resulted in a fourth-team all-state selection — the lone ninth-grader on any of the five teams compiled — and a state title. She batted .312 as a sophomore for a squad that reached the state semifinals.
Last June, the average hopped to a robust .431 for a Windsor squad that posted its 24th win in the state final. In that 2-1 slip past Marlboro, Benson contributed a sacrifice fly and a diving stab of a piercing ground ball that led to a force at second for the third out of the fifth inning.
Late that month she was recipient of a late-night text message from teammate Morgan Starley, informing Benson of her own selection to the first all-state team. “I asked, ‘Did I make anything?’ ” Benson inquired. “Morgan said I should go check for myself. It was the coolest thing, it was amazing,” she added of her first-team inclusion.
With experience and credentials come expectations — “Oh, definitely pressure,” she said. “But I don’t feel it when I get out there and play, because I am having fun, this team is making it really fun this year.”
“She’s a very aggressive player, always on the attack whether in the batter’s box or in the field, and has been that way since age 10,” said Windsor coach Bill Waldron. “She’s always been a very skilled base runner and a multi-purpose fielder.
“She’s kind of a quiet kid, not one to speak up too strongly. Good kid, great to coach, we’re kind of looking for her to have a big year here.”
A 91-average student who will turn 18 in July, Benson last week formalized her intention to attend Mansfield University and join veteran coach Edith Gallagher’s softball program. “Mansfield is like Windsor, it’s homey,” she said, “and the coach is about the nicest woman I’ve ever met.”
But first there are Section 4 and state-title defenses to tend to, while wearing that comfy hand-me-down baseball mitt from brother Nick and swinging that cherished red, white and black aluminum utensil. And do know, the young lady is highly territorial with regard to the latter.
“I don’t let anyone use my bat,” she said. “My bat, I don’t like anyone touching it, swinging with it.”
There came a point last season when the bat she’d been using “just died, it was out of hits.” And so came a home game against Seton Catholic Central, and a most welcome gift.
“My Dad actually surprised me with it, and so it has a deeper meaning to me. I don’t want it to ever break,” she said. “He comes in and says, ‘I got you a new bat.’ I actually didn’t use it until the next day, and I hit a home run with it the first time I used it.”
Since she was a youngster, softball had been a Daddy-Daughter bonding experience for John and Emma Benson. When she wanted to hit, he’d pitch until she had her fill. When fielding was the need, grounder after grounder would be delivered her way. Or maybe they’d simply talk, about this, that and the other, but so often about softball.
“My brothers played travel baseball, he was the coach and that was always a big thing,” Emma said. “But when softball hit, I felt that he became the ultimate softball dad.”
Emma lost her Dad last September, at age 48. An immensely popular figure in and around the Windsor community, John was a victim of pancreatic cancer.
“My first game back for softball, because my Dad was a huge part of it, was extremely hard,” Emma said of John, who’d watch — and be heard, always be heard — from his position down the right-field line.
“My first tournament in the fall with the Ponies, I hated it because he wasn’t there. It was my first time playing softball again without him there. It still is hard. It seems odd, that he’s not here and I can’t hear his voice when he’s yelling. He used to cheer for everyone, not just me. He’d encourage everyone.”
A silicone wristband displaying the message “Say It, Fight It, Cure It” is one of two purple pieces regularly adorning her wrist. Team members wear purple bows in their hair and purple laces in their shoes– the color universally symbolic of pancreatic cancer awareness.
Emma’s loss has helped shape her future. She’ll study psychology at Mansfield, with the intent to one day enter the field of counseling or some similar vocation. She referenced her introduction to hospice counselors, and realization of their value through the ultimate in trying times.
“Knowing that someone can comfort you in that time, and maybe say things to comfort you and know that you’ll get through it,” Emma said of her likely career path. “It’s kind of a way of me giving back because I’ve been through something so I can help someone else.”