PENDLETON — No season. No revenge. No records.
There were high hopes for the 2020 Pendleton Heights High School softball season.
The 2019 campaign was a good one, but not quite good enough. The Arabians fell short of winning a sectional title, falling in a heart-breaking extra-innings loss to Mt. Vernon.
The ’19 team was ranked No. 4 in the state and finished the year, including the loss to the Marauders, with a 23-4 mark. It won the Madison County Tournament and finished second to Class 3A state champion New Palestine in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
Star pitcher Jordan Benefiel struck out 17 and pitched a one-hitter, but the Arabians fell just short of a sectional title, losing 2-1 in nine innings.
Unfortunately for the 2020 team, there wasn’t a chance to atone for last year’s early tournament exit. The spring season ended before it started after the IHSAA canceled all high school sports in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was really tough not being able to play with my girls this year,” Benefiel said. “We definitely had the right mind-set coming in. It was just better (than in 2019).”
They’ll have to wait for 2021, but Benefiel, an all-state pitcher, is one of five seniors from the team who won’t have that opportunity.
The 2020 group was a strong one. They were key components to the team’s success from 2017-19. During that time, from their freshmen through junior years, they compiled an overall record of 65-23.
Four of those five are done at Pendleton Heights but aren’t done with playing softball.
Benefiel is going to play at the NCAA Division I level next season at Austin Peay (Clarksville, Tennessee) of the Ohio Valley Conference. Megan Porter has plans to play at Bethel College, an NAIA school in Mishawaka. McKenzie Richardson is going to a junior college, Danville Area Community College, located in Danville, Illinois, to play. Ally Hall plans to play softball and volleyball at nearby NCAA Division III school Anderson University.
Home-schooled Abbi Pokone is the other senior on the team. Another senior, Hannah Alley, had been the team’s manager/scorekeeper for the last three years.
“None of us have ever experienced something like this; fortunately most of the girls are going to play in college,” Pendleton Heights softball coach Rob Davis said. “It’s real disappointing (to not have a season). They have all worked hard for four years, a very unselfish group. These ladies were good in the classroom and in the community.”
Davis said the team was going to have a strong incoming sophomore class, too. “It was going to be a fun year,” he said. “The team was talented from top to bottom.”
He thought it could repeat as Madison County champions, make a run for the Hoosier Heritage Conference and go deep in the state tournament.
“We were definitely looking forward to the coming season,” he added.
With the season canceled, Benefiel will fall short of establishing the school’s all-time strikeout record. It’s held by her older sister, Bailey Benefiel, who also played Division I softball at Purdue Fort Wayne.
“Ever since my freshman year, I’ve been wanting to beat that record. She’ll always have that against me,” Jordan Benefiel said with a laugh.
The younger Benefiel said she needed about 150 strikeouts to beat the mark. As a junior, she had 243 for the season in a year she went 18-4 with a 0.85 earned run average.
Like many of her teammates, Jordan Benefiel will look for new records with new teammates in college.
“We are all excited (about playing in college),” Jordan said. “I can’t wait to see how all of them grow being able to play in college.”