FAYETTEVILLE – To no one’s surprise, Arkansas sophomore center fielder Andrew Benintendi — the SEC player posting the most outstanding year in the SEC and perhaps all of college baseball — was voted SEC Player of the Year by the SEC’s head baseball coaches, it was announced Monday in Birmingham, Ala.
Becoming the first Razorback simultaneously eclipsing 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season, Benintendi of Cincinnati, Ohio, brings a .415 batting average, 17 home runs, 51 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 25 attempts into the Razorbacks’ SEC Tournament game against the Tennessee Vols tonight in Hoover, Ala.
Tennessee coach Dave Serrano relishes that his Vols (24-25, 11-18) managed to qualify for the SEC Tournament on the last day of the season, but acknowledged not relishing facing Benintendi in tonight’s one-and-done setting to reach Wednesday’s seeded beginning of the tournament’s double-elimination phase that concludes with Sunday’s championship game.
He saw enough of Benintendi when Arkansas and Tennessee split two games at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, with one rained out.
“I went home thinking he is the best player in college baseball right now and well deserved,” Serrano said Monday. “He’s got balance at the plate. He’ll hit the ball to all fields. He’s a good athlete, a good center fielder. I came away very impressed.”
So impressed to strategize against him differently than the rest.
“We will do everything possible to not allow him to beat us but good players find a way to do that,” Serrano said. “His success has translated into team success. I think they go off on what he does.”
Hot all season, Benintendi has sizzled lately with 11 multi-hit games in his last 14 with at least one hit in 24 of his last 26, including the last 10 consecutively, and has reached base at least once in 24 consecutive games and hasn’t been struck out in his last 46 at bats.
“Well obviously he’s had an incredible year,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Monday. “It’s been such a fun year as a coach to watch him develop. Just watching him play. He’s done a great job of just getting better as the year goes on and that’s what a lot of the great ones do. They kind of can heat it up. That’s what he’s done. Maybe a lot of people didn’t know about him early and once they realized how good he was, the scouting reports were out, he still maintained that high level of play, whether it was running the bases or making a play in the outfield, but especially at the plate.”
Benintendi becomes Arkansas’ first SEC Player of the Year and first conference player of the year since submarine delivery reliever Phil Stidham’s 11 saves helped Arkansas win the 1990 Southwest Conference.
Arkansas All-American pitcher Nick Schmidt was named the SEC’s Pitcher of the Year in 2006.
Benintendi wasn’t the only Razorback to be honored All-SEC Monday.
Arkansas sophomore reliever Zach Jackson was named first-team striking out 67 in 452/3 innings with a 4-0 record and five saves.
Arkansas freshman starter Keaton McKinney (6-1, 3.18 ERA) was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, and junior third baseman Bobby Wernes was named to the SEC All-Defensive team.
Wernes made two plays during the year recorded by ESPN for its Top 10 national highlights plays of the week and has a .969 fielding percentage.