It doesn’t get any better than a perfect game for a pitcher.
Just ask Wilson High School’s John Bender.
The junior right-hander retired 21 out of 21 batters in an 11-0 win against Niagara-Orleans League rival Roy-Hart on May 9. He struck out 10, didn’t allow a ball to leave the infield and needed only 77 pitches to complete the outing.
“The situation doesn’t ever affect the way he is,” Wilson coach Mark Kurtz said. “I think he likes the pressure. The bigger it gets, the better he gets. They couldn’t rattle him at all. They tried early on, but they couldn’t get to him.”
Bender said he had a pretty good feeling heading into the game, but the start wasn’t how he would have drawn it up.
“I’m a big strikeout pitcher,” Bender said, “and through the first two innings I only had one ‘K.’ I was sort of nervous but throughout the innings they started coming.”
All four pitches were working against the Rams for Bender, who was honorable mention All-Western New York and a first team all-league pitcher as a sophomore.
“My fastball I was placing where I wanted it to go,” Bender said. “I could throw my curveball for a strike early in the count or bury it in the dirt if I was up in the count. Threw the knuckleball to throw batters off. I would throw my changeup to a lefty every once in awhile. It all went pretty well.”
It was the fifth inning when he realized he hadn’t had to throw out of the stretch yet.
“I was sort of stressing out throwing my knuckleball a little too much because I didn’t want to throw a ball and work the count,” Bender said. “I think for everybody it sunk in in the fifth inning.”
But in true unwritten-rules-of-baseball fashion, his teammates didn’t dare say a word. Not until a strikeout in the dirt that catcher Nate Fox threw to first baseman Connor Sealy for the final out.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Bender said. “Everybody came out on the field and was cheering. It was great.”
Bender did his part offensively as well. He went 4-4, including his fourth home run of the season, a double and three runs batted in.
“I know he wants to be more of a positional player down the road when he goes on to the next level,” Kurtz said. “He knows what to look for even when he’s down in the count. He hit his home run on an 0-2 pitch. You don’t see a lot of guys make that swing on an 0-2 pitch.”
The Lakemen’s ace in 43.2 innings pitched across nine appearances sported a 1.60 ERA (10 earned runs) and had struck out 71 of 179 batters faced through last weekend’s games. Opponents were batting .148 and had an on-base percentage of .229.
“The thing about John is he knows this game inside and out,” Kurtz said. “He also knows a lot about batters and how to go after them.”
Maybe he knows quite a bit about batters because he’s an accomplished one himself.
Bender mostly plays shortstop when not on the mound and leads the team in basically every offensive category. He had a .596 batting average and a .683 on-base percentage with 28 hits (eight doubles, four homers, one triple), 24 RBIs and 21 runs scored through last weekend. He struck out just once in 60 plate appearances.