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Bennett Lloyd's Benedictine baseball journey

Bennett Lloyd's Benedictine baseball journey

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Bennett Lloyd really got into baseball when he saw his brother playing the game.

“Being little,” he said, “you always want to be like your big brother.”

He started playing when he was around 6 years old, and he hasn’t stopped since.

The Benedictine alum and rising freshman at Hampden-Sydney College played up through the Tuckahoe Little League and competed for the Manakin Militia in Goochland, the Richmond Braves, RBA South and RBA West. Throughout his career and his life, his travel coach Donnie Phillips has been both a mentor and teacher. He helped Lloyd pick which college he’d attend and play for, and he also helped with getting scouts to come and watch him play.

Lloyd’s achievements leading up to high school included contributing to the TLL 12u American All-Star team that went down to Warner Robins, Georgia, to play in the Southeast Regional Tournament.

“That was probably my first big baseball moment where we were playing on ESPN,” Lloyd said. “That was a big moment for me.”

He also still talks to the guys who were his teammates.

“I made lifelong friends during that.”

In his high school freshman year, Lloyd was among the players who ended up making Benedictine’s varsity team.

“It was kind of a shock for all of us making it,” he said, “because our team that year was really good.”

During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Lloyd’s role was mostly that of a relief pitcher. But the goal was for Lloyd to become a regular part of the batting order, and he did so by sharpening his approach at the plate.

“I really started coming in with the mindset of: no matter what, swing, so I was just always thinking: yes, yes, yes, and then last second ... that would be like my final deciding factor if I’m swinging or not,” Lloyd said. “I don’t know how, but it really did just help me actually start getting my swing started and actually getting ready to hit the ball before I just went up there.”

And also, before his at-bat, he would think about his plan – what he wanted to do during certain counts. He described becoming a smarter hitter in addition to already being a strong hitter.

That combination led to the versatile 6-foot-2 right-hander becoming a top contributor in the Cadets’ explosive lineup. As a junior, Lloyd hit three home runs and four doubles and scored 24 runs. He finished second on the team in RBI (27) behind Brett Cook in 2019.

“We always knew Bennett would be an impact player,” said Benedictine coach Sean Ryan. “What’s most impressive is the way he accepted whatever role he was given, whether it be to pitch a couple of relief innings in a tight game, play the outfield when needed or come up clutch at the plate. He did a little of everything for us and became one of our most versatile and valuable players.”

He also delivered one of the most memorable moments in Benedictine’s storied history.

The Cadets ran into Norfolk Christian School in this past year’s VISAA state quarterfinals, and the two teams ended up battling each other across 14 innings – two regulation games’ worth – and two days of play.

Lloyd stepped up with the score tied at 10-10, and when he skied a 1-0 fastball over left-center field, he thought for sure it was going to fall into a fielder’s glove.

It didn’t.

The ball kept going until it exited the field across the fence, securing Lloyd’s wild walk-off home run and a thrilling 11-10 playoff triumph for his Cadets.

“It surprised me,” he said.

It was the first walk-off homer he had ever hit in any kind of situation.

“When that happened, I went blank . . . and then afterwards I thought about it and it’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve had,” Lloyd said. “I’ve never done anything like that, so being able to do something like that in such a big moment really did impact me a lot.”

“Bennett’s game-winning homer against Norfolk Christian will go down as one of the biggest hits in Benedictine baseball history,” Ryan said. “It’s a memory no one who was a part of that game will ever forget.”

Lloyd and his teammates would go on to hoist the 2019 VISAA state championship trophy with a 7-4 victory over rival St. Christopher’s. Lloyd came up huge in that game as well; he tallied up three RBI, including the tie-breaking run in the sixth inning to put the Cadets up 5-4.

“His junior year, we asked a lot of him. His relentless work ethic paid off, particularly at the plate, and he became a vital piece of our lineup,” Ryan said of Lloyd. “He quietly put up incredible numbers, and we wouldn’t have won that state title without him.”

Lloyd said that Benedictine’s baseball program is really “a family.”

“You get a little closer with the guys because most of the guys just play baseball or just play one sport, and most of us lift at the same place, so being able to be with those guys 24/7 in school, lifting, practice – you just get to know them so well that the team chemistry is a little different because you know each other,” Lloyd said. “I think the atmosphere with Benedictine baseball was a little different than most places and I think a stronger team chemistry all four years kind of helped more.”

Playing at first base, Lloyd got to learn from Will Simon, and the first things Simon taught him were the way to go through the bag, where to set up and where to put his feet.

“When I got there, he really just cleaned everything up for me and actually showed me what to do and showed me the simple things and the things that will help me when I’m over there, and that really did help me, and I used just about everything he has taught me still,” Lloyd said.

He added that coach Ryan emphasized to the players the central significance of character, and Cam Cassady, a former assistant coach at Benedictine who’s now currently on the Roanoke baseball coaching staff, also helped them with becoming better baseball players.

“During study hall, during school, you would walk into his room and every single baseball kid was in there. He would just be talking about baseball,” Lloyd said of Cassady. “He showed us how to work hard and why we should love baseball and how much fun it is.”

Lloyd also said that, during his sophomore year, coach Cassady “sat me down and gave me a reality check.”

“He pointed out my problems and continuously pushed me to get better and better at them,” he said. “He wanted the best for all of us and more.”

Growing up, Lloyd had always been a first baseman and a pitcher, but his junior year, he added outfielder to his list of roles on the team – and he got pretty good at it.

“It was hard, honestly,” Lloyd said of adjusting to that new role. “It was completely different from anything I had ever been taught, and trying to pick that up super quickly was really demanding of me, having to always put forth the effort into tracking different balls, getting live reads off of bats and everything.”

After playing in the outfield, Lloyd said he has a lot more respect for other positions.

“Once I switched . . . I was like: man, this is a completely different game playing out here,” he said. “I think it just really opened up my eyes to how difficult the game of baseball is.”

When Lloyd joins Hampden-Sydney’s baseball team this coming fall, he will do so as a two-way player.

“It’s very exciting knowing that they actually believe that I can pitch and hit at the college level.”

Lloyd likes complete control of the game, and the most control you can get, he said, is as a pitcher.

“It’s nice being able to control what is going to happen in the game,” Lloyd said, “and no matter what, if you still execute your pitch and you still throw your pitch and somebody hits it, you can’t be upset about it . . . you did your job.”

His fastball and curveball have been the two strongest pitches in his arsenal, and he has a cutter that is kind of like a “get me over” pitch that he can throw for a strike. His velocity usually sits around 84-85 mph, and this year he topped at 87.

One of his favorite high school baseball moments came from when they played St. Christopher’s in the Deep Run Spring Break Tournament his sophomore season. Lloyd, on the pitcher’s mound, faced Nick Biddison, now a sophomore and baseball player at Virginia Tech.

Lloyd struck him out with three straight fastballs.

“I surprised myself,” Lloyd said. “I think I surprised him too.”

Looking ahead

Going into his senior season, Lloyd really was worried. While he and his Cadets were coming off last year’s state championship season, they had lost many contributors from that stellar season to graduation and transfers, and a couple more were sidelined by injury.

“I was really, really concerned as to how our team would be without them,” Lloyd said. “But after probably the first two to three practices, that worry went away.”

He observed how the connection between his teammates this year was especially strong.

“It was just weird – being able to have a team of: nobody was arguing, there’s no problems,” he said. “Everybody was just always excited to go out onto the field and play with each other.”

The Cadets showcased their chemistry through one game this season – a 9-5 triumph over Walsingham Academy. But then came the nationwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic that gripped the nation. Schools in the state were shuttered for the rest of the year, and the rest of the VISAA spring sports seasons were cancelled.

“Originally right when it happened, I was just sad. I was just so mad that I didn’t get to play my senior season,” he said. “And then I really started thinking about it, and I was sitting there like: ‘Okay, this could be helpful. It could help with my injuries and just get me a little healthier.’

“But then it kind of just sucks seeing the seniors who haven’t committed not being able to get that last chance to show what they can do,” he said, “and that’s one big thing that I think can be hard, especially for some of my friends that wanted to play in college but hadn’t committed yet or were going to, and just couldn’t because of this whole break.”

The pandemic has shown him that “something really can be taken from you that quickly, in a blink of an eye.”

“Realizing that and still to be able to sit here and give it time and let it process I think really just was what showed me: Hey, it can’t be but so bad.”

With Hampden-Sydney College – his next stop in both his academic and baseball careers – Lloyd likes that it’s a smaller school.

“I feel like, also, the coaches there, just the way they talk to me, it feels like they actually care about me and not just my abilities,” he said, “and that’s one thing that I was always looking for, because I want to go somewhere that the coaches actually like me and I’ll actually play, because I don’t want to go to some school where I’m just going to go sit on the bench for four years and barely play. I want to go somewhere where I can go and hopefully start playing my freshman year.”

He spoke highly of the other commits coming in next season.

“They’re just really laid-back guys who actually are accepting and would actually help you out,” he said, “and I have a good amount of friends that are going up there next year for baseball, so I won’t be by myself.”

During this time, Lloyd has been working in landscaping – which, he noted, works a lot of different muscles – and he’s also been lifting a lot.

“I’m just trying to get a lot stronger and be able to build up some arm strength before I go up there.”

He continues the next leg of his baseball and academic journeys having learned from the diamond that “no matter what, it shouldn’t matter about size, doesn’t matter about strength – doesn’t matter about any of that.”

What matters, he said, is character, as well as how much – how badly – you want your goal.

“If you don’t want it that bad, you’re not going to do it,” he said. “If you actually care about it, you’re going to work for it.”

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