Sports Person of the Week
Gentile Learned a Lot by Playing Baseball in Branford
Bennett Gentile was a fixture in left field for the Branford baseball team during his final two seasons with the program. He was also named a senior captain for the Hornets. (Photo courtesy of Bennett Gentile )
Bennett Gentile’s career with the Branford High School baseball team got out to an unusual start, but he quickly proved that he wasn’t going to leave the field any time soon. After earning the starting left fielder’s job as a sophomore, Bennett held on to that spot throughout the rest of his time with the Hornets.
Bennett was a reserve player early on in his sophomore season, but that all changed when Branford faced East Haven for an away game that year. Bennett came into the game to play left field during the fourth inning and, on his first varsity play, the opposing batter hit the ball over his head. As he went to go and chase the ball, Bennett’s foot got caught in the fence, and East Haven’s hitter came around to score and tie the game.
However, Bennett got redemption. In the top of the eighth inning, Bennett singled for his first varsity hit, stole second base, and later came around to score the go-ahead run on a walk by Zane Kmietek. Branford went on to win the game 2-1, and Bennett had taken the first step in solidifying himself as a starter.
“I was a nervous wreck to be honest. I didn’t expect to go in, and all of the kids on the field were all seniors. I felt like I had to perform, but the coaches calmed me down before my at-bat, and I did my thing,” Bennett says. “If we lost that game, I felt like it was on me. Our pitcher was shutting him down, let up no earned runs. It was a relief, especially when I came across the plate. I felt like I earned it back.”
Bennett entered his junior season starting in left field for Branford. He also began to see more pitching opportunities at the varsity level. Bennett started some games on the mound that year, including an away matchup against Guilford. Although Branford took a 2-0 loss, Bennett turned in a great effort by tossing a complete game.
Bennett has taken a lot of pride in pitching since first he stepped on the hill in Branford Little League at age 11. Even before that, Bennett had been training with his father Anthony in their backyard. As he continued to pitch, Bennett worked hard to figure out ways to retire hitters.
“Pitching means a lot. We set up a mound in my yard, and my dad would catch behind the plate. We would just work every day on my location and what I needed to do,” says Bennett. “I wasn’t going to overpower people with my fastball, so I had to change something up to make it better. I take pitching pretty seriously every game.”
In addition to helping Bennett improve as a pitcher, Bennett’s father also played a big role in fostering his son’s love for baseball. Following Little League, Bennett competed for various AAU teams, including the Connecticut Sting, the CT Grind, and the Hamden Yard Dogs. He was also a member of Branford’s 2015 Cooperstown team. Bennett learned a lot from his dad along the way and saw his passion for the sport flourish.
“My dad really pushed it on me when I was younger, and then I found a love for it. [He and I]would always go to the field and practice. He would hit me fly balls. We would practice at home. We would do everything,” Bennett says. “He was like a coach. It was a great experience. He helped me out a lot. We would watch games together. He taught me how to play. It took off from there.”
Bennett was once again planning to play left field for the Hornets, while potentially getting more pitching assignments as a senior this spring. Bennett was also named a team captain alongside fellow senior Jake Bodner, a role that he was excited to hold. Unfortunately, those plans were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though he couldn’t play for his high school team, Bennett did get a chance to play for Branford’s 19-U team in the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association this summer. Bennett felt that he found his form on the mound and became the pitcher he wanted to be during the season. Head Coach Kyle Heins agrees.
“Bennett is a competitor. He’s a bulldog. He is someone that really wants the ball in big situations. He batted fourth in our lineup all year was and an anchor on the mound,” says Heins. “When Bennett pitched, we knew we had a chance every single game. He mixes his pitches well, he throws strikes. He does everything he needs to do to keep his team in games. He knows how to get kids out. His baseball IQ is something I can’t even measure. He understands what needs to get done.”
Now that he’s graduated from Branford, Bennett is currently taking online classes at the University of Tampa. He will move to campus in January to continue pursuing a degree in business management. When it comes to baseball, Bennett says that he plans on trying out once more information is known about a potential season.
Bennett made significant strides on the diamond while playing baseball in Branford. As he reflects upon the experience, Bennett realizes how much the sport has taught him and how special it is to play.
“Baseball is a sport that you have to be mentally focused on every day,” Bennett says. “I learned a lot from the game. It taught me respect. It’s hard to let go.”