Aug. 28, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At the start of every school year, Tony Bennett breaks out the bats and gloves and divides his basketball team into two squads for a softball game.
Bennett did it when he coached at Washington State, and he brought the tradition to UVa last year. The Cavaliers played at Davenport Field in 2009. A year later, they moved to The Park — the University’s softball stadium — and held their annual game there Monday.
So, who won?
“I’m glad you asked,” Bennett said with a huge smile Friday evening. “That would be the coaches, in a thrilling victory. It wasn’t come-from-behind, but there were some key plays made. It was back and forth.”
In 2009, then-freshmen Jontel Evans and Tristan Spurlock played with the coaches. On the other team were the Wahoos’ returning players, and they emerged victorious.
The ‘Hoos have so few veterans this year, and so many newcomers — first-year players James Johnson, Billy Baron, Akil Mitchell, K.T. Harrell, Joe Harris and Will Regan — that Bennett changed the format.
All the players were on one team. The other squad included Bennett, assistant coaches Ron Sanchez, Jason Williford and Ritchie McKay, operations assistants Brad Soucie and Ronnie Wideman, strength-and-conditioning coach Mike Curtis, head manager Thomas Tudor and T.J. Grams, the team’s new academic coordinator.
Grams, like Bennett, grew up in Wisconsin.
“Anyone from Wisconsin knows how to play softball,” Bennett said.
Tudor, a third-year at UVa, played baseball at Warren County High School, and he was at shortstop Monday.
“Thomas made some costly errors early,” Bennett said, within earshot of Tudor, “but then got better as the game went on.”
The MVP? That honor went, in Bennett’s opion, to Sanchez, also the winning pitcher. Sanchez grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and as a kid saw his share of games at nearby Yankee Stadium.
“He was terrific,” Bennett said.
For the players, Sammy Zeglinski and Will Sherrill stood out, Bennett said. Both played baseball in high school, and Zeglinski’s father played the sport at Wake Forest.
Zeglinski played shortstop Monday, Bennett said. On one play, Zeglinski made a backhanded stop, turned and fired to Sherrill at first in time to beat the runner.
“Will did the old stretch, where he was doing splits and caught it,” Bennett said. “It was an unreal play.”
There were other memorable moments, Bennett said. “Brad Soucie had a couple big homers. The longest home run was by James Johnson. He’s not even a big softball player, but he sent one deep.
“James, Billy and Joe hit home runs [for the players].”
Seven-footer Assane Sene, who’s from Senegal, hasn’t progressed much as a softball player in the past year, Bennett noted, smiling, and several other ‘Hoos didn’t look especially comfortable on the diamond.
“Softball is not K.T.’s strength,” Bennett said with a laugh, “but it was fun. We had a blast.”
After the softball game each year, a photograph is taken of the winning team. As a friendly reminder of the final score, the photo hangs in the home locker room at John Paul Jones Arena for the next 12 months.
“So you always walk in and point at that,” Bennett said.