DuBOIS, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Tanner LaBenne took some swings in the batting cage before the USCAA Small College World Series Home Run Derby Sunday at Showers Field.
(Photo courtesy of Penn State DuBois)
With each cut, the Brookville graduate and junior on the Penn State DuBois baseball team grew more concerned. He was representing the host Lions in the derby, which kicked off the week-long World Series. He wanted to make a good showing.
But he was in a funk.
“I wasn’t feeling very well, but I went last in the first round because I was the one-seed, and I knew I had to get five to qualify and move on to the second round,” LaBenne said. “The goal was to qualify.”
LaBenne did. He had 10 outs to work with and reached five home runs with five outs to spare.
That first round helped LaBenne swing his way out of his troubles. He went on to smash 10 homers in the final and 24 total to win the Home Run Derby.
“It was a blast,” LaBenne said. “I was the hometown representative and that’s always fun.”
LaBenne has used his powerful left-handed swing well in things other than a home run derby for Penn State DuBois this season.
LaBenne has been something of a pinch-hitting guru this year for the Lions.
He has 42 at-bats in 29 games, but has made the most of those opportunities. He’s batting .357 with three home runs, four doubles, 10 RBIs and 17 runs scored this season.
“I come in and hit every now and then when coach sees a matchup he likes,” LaBenne said. “I come in and let it rip.”
LaBenne, though, has also been selective at the plate with 12 walks and just five strikeouts.
He’s embraced his role as situational hitter, staying loose and ready at all times. He’s even gotten to the point where he can anticipate when he’ll be called upon to hit.
“If I see a big right-handed come in,” he said, “I get ready to hit.
“It’s satisfying and I’m happy with my performance so far this year,” LaBenne added. “But the job’s not done.”
Penn Stats DuBois is gunning for a second straight USCAA Small World Series title. The Lions won the crown last season and are already off to a good start this year.
Penn State DuBois (25-12) beat Southern Maine 10-3 Monday in the first round.
LaBenne had a hit and a walk and scored a pair of runs in that victory.
“It’s a blast. It’s like a family over here,” LaBenne said of the tight-knit team. “We are all brothers for each other, our teammates and even the coaching staff. Each and every one of us are brothers.”
LaBenne said that is the reason why Penn State DuBois is so successful year after year, even more than the talent the Lions always seem to be able to assemble.
“Our team is just so close,” he said.
It is also full of District 9 players.
Elk County Catholic graduate Daniel Stauffer is enjoying a monster season, batting .410 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs.
Karns City product Matt Yough has also shined, hitting .372 with three homers and 23 RBIs.
“There’s a lot of guys I played against,” LaBenne said. “We all know each other and respect each other, so that makes us closer.”
Back in his early days at Brookville, LaBenne knew he wanted to play at Penn State DuBois when his high school career was over.
He committed to the Lions as a senior with the Raiders.
Now he’s hoping to help them to another World Series title.
“It would be awesome if we could do it again,” LaBenne said. “If we keep showing up and playing well, it’s a possibility.”