At first glance, Lynden pitcher Tanna Benson’s success seems to stem from great location of her pitches and a strong bat.
To maintain a 1.26 ERA and a .539 batting average, she undoubtedly had both those assets working for her this season.
But Benson has somewhat of a secret weapon — a quality that makes her unique and helped the Lions to a 23-3 record, including a 22-game win streak.
The senior pitcher is driven by her team and in return, her teammates fight for their star. Because who wouldn’t want to play hard for someone who lays it all on the field — someone who plays with a lot of guts, as coach Steve Petersen loves to say — each time she goes out?
“It’s one of those symbiotic relationships,” Petersen said in a phone interview. “The defense is on their toes because she’s throwing strikes. She’s throwing strikes because she knows she’s got a good defense behind her.”
It’s that relationship that propelled the Lions to dominating a tough Northwest Conference, going 12-0 for the title, and a Class 2A State Tournament appearance. Although the finish was disappointing for Lynden’s six seniors — they were eliminated on the first day — it was enough for the heart of Lynden’s team to be named The Bellingham Herald’s All-Whatcom County Softball Player of the Year.
Benson didn’t strike out the most batters in the league, but a stretch of 17 games where she only allowed 19 runs showed why she was the top player in Whatcom County.
The bigger the situation, the better Benson was. Take the district title game, for example, Benson threw seven innings of shutout ball to earn a 1-0 win despite the Seahawks having runners in scoring position on multiple occasions.
“I live for those games. That’s the position I want to be in,” Benson said in a phone interview. “It’s so exciting to compete against someone like that. ... I throw better the higher the stakes because I’m there fighting for my team.”
Nearly every question Benson was asked, she turned back to her desire to fight for the Lions. It was the reason the future Linfield College player put in hours and hours of offseason work. It was the reason she always asked for “one more” — one more bucket of ground balls, one more round of batting practice.
Benson knew for Lynden to be more successful than the season before, when she took over as starter for two-time All-Whatcom County Player of the Year Brooke Bonsen, she had to be on her A-game.
She deemed her junior season “a transition year.” Senior season was her time to shine and shine she did.
“Last year, I was in the circle doing my best, but I wasn’t as powerful as I thought I wanted to be,” Benson said. “Throughout the winter, I worked hard to be a powerful force. I knew my team behind me was going to fill their roles so I wanted to fill mine.”
Benson also took on a different role when it came to leadership. As one of six seniors, she was counted on to create the bond the Lynden program tries to foster. It was one of the biggest areas of growth Petersen saw from the righty.
“I think what I’m proud of her is how she grew into that (leadership role),” Petersen said. “She used to be very facial. You could tell how she was doing by the look on her face. This year and the second half of last year, she seemed to say ‘I’m doing this, I might as well have some fun with it.’”
Now, Benson rarely is seen without a smile on her face, her best attempt to keep the positive energy in the dugout.
“Sometimes it’s just so much easier to keep it light,” Benson said. “If everyone’s uptight and not relaxed, they’re not going to play the best they can. I kind of took it upon myself to be encouraging because I know they’re working so hard behind me. ... It’s important to me they know I’m excited for them. I want them to know I’m not always intense or frustrated.”
While Benson is adored by the entire Lynden roster, there’s nobody closer to her than senior catcher Mandy Warner. The two have been best friends since middle school and know what makes each other tick, Benson said.
“We work really well together. I have 100 percent trust in her,” Benson said. “She knows the little things about me and what gets to me and knows how to work with that.”
Without her, Benson wouldn’t be where she is. Without the team, Benson wouldn’t be a star. But without Benson, the Lions wouldn’t have been so dominant.
It’s the perfect relationship.
Athletes of the Year
For the 10th year, the Bellingham Herald is proud to celebrate Whatcom County high school student athletes with its All-Whatcom County teams. A look back at the athletes selected All-Whatcom County Softball Players of the Year:
2006: Suni Dillard, Nooksack Valley
2007: Sydney Qualey, Ferndale
2008: Erika Ramstead, Nooksack Valley
2009: Erika Ramstead, Nooksack Valley
2010: Austin Wilkerson, Sehome
2011: Austin Wilkerson, Sehome
2012: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
2013: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
2014: Lauren Maley, Ferndale
2015: Tanna Benson, Lynden
Player of the Year Tanna Benson
What she did: Threw the majority of innings for the Lions, tallying 133 2/3 on the year. ... Struck out 140 batters, more than a one per inning average, while also maintaining a league-best 1.26 ERA. ... Was just as productive at the plate, notching a .539 batting average while also picking up eight homers. ... Drove in 51 runs from the third spot in the batting order.