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Kennesaw State’s Max Pentecost wins Johnny Bench Award

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, June 26, 2014, at 11:04 p.m.

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Eagle columnist honored

Eagle sports columnist Bob Lutz received the Greater Wichita Sports Commission Visionary Award Thursday for starting League 42, a grassroots baseball league aimed toward children who might not otherwise be introduced to the game.

Lutz, 59, began the league by enlisting volunteers and organizing meetings last fall and winter. Their efforts led to 220 players, ages 5 to 13, beginning play in the 16-team league on April 28. The league is named for Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became the first black major-league player when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Before earning the award on Thursday, Lutz, who coaches a T-Ball team in the league, oversaw a night of games at McAdams Park that included appearances by NFL players and Wichitans Bryce and Arthur Brown, as well as women’s basketball legend and former North star Lynette Woodard.

Eagle staff

Max Pentecost hasn’t yet signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, who drafted him earlier this month, but he already has a major-league resume.

Pentecost started his eventful year by winning the Most Outstanding Prospect award last summer in the Cape Cod League, an honor previously bestowed upon the likes of Mark Teixeira, Chuck Knoblauch and Robin Ventura, among many other MLB alumni.

Three weeks ago the Blue Jays drafted Pentecost 11th – the same spot at which reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer was picked in 2006.

And on Thursday, Pentecost won the Johnny Bench Award as part of the annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet held at the Hyatt Regency downtown. Eight of the previous 14 winners have reached the major leagues, and some recent winners are on the same path.

Pentecost, who emerged from a group of finalists that included Mississippi catcher Will Allen and Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber, is trying not to mentally hasten the possibilities opened up by his last 12 months.

“I’m really enjoying this,” Pentecost said. “It’s only going to be here a little bit longer, then my career is going to continue in pro ball. I’m just trying to take this in, soak it up, and make it last. Whatever happens next is in God’s control, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Pentecost became the fourth-highest draft pick to win the Bench Award, following Florida State’s Buster Posey, the fifth pick prior to winning in 2008, No. 3 picks Jeff Clement (’05) and Mike Zunino (’12). All three have major-league experience.

Schwarber was picked fourth this year by the Chicago Cubs, but not even a season in which Schwarber ranked in the top 10 nationally in home runs, runs and slugging percentage could overshadow Pentecost.

In leading Kennesaw (Ga.) State to its first NCAA Division I postseason appearance, Pentecost led the nation with 110 hits and was second with a .423 batting average and 164 total bases. He ranked in the top 20 in several other offensive categories while throwing out 34 percent of base stealers.

“Just coming up here, people ask me where I’m from. I say Kennesaw State and they’re like, ‘Ya’ll had a really good season,’ ” Pentecost said. “I think it really put our team on the map, and it shows that any (team) can do it. Even looking at our future teams, it’s possible. The opportunity is there.”

Though he was drafted in the seventh round out of high school, Pentecost became an elite prospect in the Cape Cod League, which annually features many of college baseball’s top players in a wood-bat setting.

After batting .346 there, with six home runs, 29 RBIs and a .538 slugging percentage, Pentecost reached a new level in the spring, raising his batting average 121 points and developing more power. He was the Atlantic Sun player of the year and a Louisville Slugger All-American.

“The whole summer in the Cape, it’s definitely the whole reason I’ve been able to do what I have this year,” Pentecost said. “I became a much better player, person – matured a lot while I was up there, and I mentally became stronger. That’s what I was missing to begin with to make things easier and better.”

Other awards – The high school athletes of the year were Clearwater volleyball player Bryna Vogel and Hesston multi-sport athlete Ryan Schadler, who took awards named for Barry Sanders and Lynette Woodard. The collegiate athletes of the year were Wichita State volleyball player Chelsey Feekin and WSU basketball star Cleanthony Early.

The high school coaches of the year were Bishop Carroll softball coach Steve Harshberger and Derby football coach Brandon Clark, who both claimed state championships. WSU basketball coach Gregg Marshall was the Gene Stephenson coach of the year and former Wingnuts first baseman C.J. Ziegler won professional athlete of the year.

Special awards went to the Wichita Wild, who won its second straight Champions Professional Indoor Football League championship, Friends men’s and women’s basketball teams, and to Friends basketball star Joe Mitchell, the NAIA Division II player of the year.

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