Community names field for UofL stats legend Al Benninger

Al Benninger, a long-time statistician for University of Louisville athletics and a UofL fan for even longer honored for his 30 years of service to the metro parks community.

Al Benninger is one of the most familiar faces along press row at University of Louisville athletic events, having served as a statistician for UofL basketball and football teams for four decades.  What’s less commonly known is that Benninger is a legend in the seniors softball community.

Al Benninger was a pitcher, coach and commissioner for the senior softball league. He is retiring this year at the age of 93. (Charlie Springer photos)

Benninger, 93 years old, had such an impact on the sport that the softball field at Camp Taylor Park was recently named Al Benninger Field. He helped to start the Seniors Softball League as a player and coach in 1990 at the age of 64  before becoming Commissioner for the next 19 years.

Al Benninger Field is located on Poplar Road near the Watterson Expressway.

Along the way Benninger also served as a coach, organizer, statistician and spokesman for the league. The league has grown from four teams in 1990 to 16 teams, largely consisting of players 60 years of age and older. The 60 and over teams compete on Tuesday, and 70 and over squads play on Thursdays during the summer..

The sign on the first base fence designating the new Al Benninger Field at Camp Tayor Park.

Many of the Benninger’s teammates, fans and admirers were on hand for the recent ceremony, including Metro Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Kenny Klein,  UofL sports information director, Anthony Williams, of the parks department, and Gary Rodemeier, retired WHAS newsman and a current coach and player in the league.

“I was overwhelmed by all the attention,” said Benninger, who announced his retirement after this season. “I never dreamed they would name the field after me.”

Benninger, who still regularly attends UofL women’s softball games, started playing softball when he was 28 years old. “I thought I would play maybe five years,” he said. “Never did I think I would be playing for 50 more years.”

He especially enjoyed playing and managing in the senior leagues because the league enabled him to meet many new friends and providing great camradery. “Most of my high school buddies are no longer around. It has been a lot of fun and some great memories.”

Equally satisfying was his career as a UofL statistician before retiring in 2006. The UofL stats crew has done the NCAA Final Four every year starting in 1969. “They liked our work and we’ve been doing it every since,” he said.

Benninger may be retiring but don’t be surprised if he is in the stands at the games next summer. He has rarely missed a UofL game since he retired from there, and he will always be welcome at Al Benninger Field.

Al Benninger and the observer, Charlie Springer, converse at home plate at Al Benninger Field.

Wait till next year time for Louisville basketball

Time to put the basketballs in mothballs.

The University of Louisville dies a quick death Thursday afternoon. First game. First out. Minnesota 86, Louisville 76.  UofL finishes 20-14, losing six of their last eight games. The two wins coming against Notre Dame.

The Cardinals shoot air balls. Fall trying to rebound. Foul three point shooters. Actually don’t guard the three-point line where the Golden Gophers averaged five made threes a game but made 11 of 27 on Thursday.

Minnesota led by as many of 19 points. Gabe Kalscheur led the Gophers with 24 points making five of 11 three point baskets and eight rebounds. Amir Coffey added 13. The Gophers had zero bench points.

Christen Cunningham led the Cards with 22 points, Jordan Nwora had 10 for a team that shot 44.1 per cent from the floor and nine of 26 from three point baskets for 34.6 percent. The teams payed to a 35-35 draw rebounding.
“It’s a special movement for our program,” said Gophers coach Richard Pitino, son of former Cardinals head man, Rick Pitino. “We beat a really good Louisville team.”

The Cardinals never gave up, but were climbing a mountain all afternoon.
The NCAA Tournament is the reward for a season well played. Louisville did enough to earn an at large bid to the 68 team field for the first time since 2017 and the second time in four years.

Card Nation is tired of the drama with the basketball and football teams. The committee added drama with the matchup between Pitino’s 10th seeded Gophers and seventh seed Louisville. It was the tournament’s first game in of this years tournament. A CBS national audience watching for at least 30 minutes. The Cardinals were mostly a mess. Louisville gave up three baskets at a alarming rate. Fell down on rebounds. Shot air balls. What could Chris Mack do?

It’s the journey. No more false hopes, bad basketball won’t do. Card Nation can only hope and wait till next year.

Not pretty, nowhere to hide, Louisville basketball is done

A strange season, full of puzzling ups and downs, unbelievable twists and turns, winding up in a ditch Thursday for the University of Louisville basketball team. A sense of relief cascading over the fan base now that the 2018-19 season has come screeching to a halt.

Back to the NCAA, a few nice wins, fewer distractions this season, some good things happening along the way.

At the end, however, it was increasingly obvious that Coach Chris Mack had a lack of players with real basketball savvy or talent. For Mack to win 20 games and finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference with this team was an incredible accomplishment. Ending in an 86-76 loss to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA.

Mack was being sensitve, wanting to spare the feelings of his players. Nowhere to hide if the talent isn't there.

A team that defeated Michigan State, beat North Carolina by 21 points at Chapel Hill, led Virginia by 10 points at the half and led Duke by 23 points in the second half. How were any of these accomplishments even possible? Outmanned at every position on the floor in the spotlight games, the Cardinals somehow managed to raise expectations to traditional levels.

Just when one started to believe in them, however, they would fail to show up, resembling a local YMCA team. Few signs of individual leadership, except when Jordan Nwora was hitting the circus 3-pointers. But depending far too much on 3-pointers, with seemingly nary a clue about layups until games were out of reach. 

Can’t remember since the dwindling days of the Denny Crum era any examples of worse defensive efforts. Worked for a while but it didn’t take long for teams to figure it out, probably because some of the UofL players were not equipped for the challenge.

“Not quite good enough,” as the coach quipped at the end of his press conference. He was being sensitive, wanting to spare the feelings of his players. Nowhere to hide if the talent isn’t there.

There was ample evidence, however, that future Chris Mack-coached teams will be far superior to his initial installation. Rick Pitino and David Padgett left the cupboard pretty bare, forcing Mack to rely heavily on transfers and players who didn’t capture the imagination of many top level college teams. No heroes on the bench, no contributions from any walk-ons, no born leaders.

Mack did take this team much farther than anyone ever predicted, far surpassing low expectations. He’s going to be rewarded for his initiative, his persistence and patience with the second highest ranked recruiting class in the nation. Mack is already ahead of the game, and his program is only going to get better.

Louisville is dancing again, with Richard Pitino in opening act

The ghost of Rick Pitino will hang over University of Louisville in the opening game of the 2019 NCAA tournament.

By Ed Peak

The NCAA just could help itself, matching the University of Louisville against Rick Pitino’s son. Just too obvious, the irony. But the Cardinals are back.

That eruption that shook the area at 6:07 Sunday evening was UofL fans celebrating another bid to the NCAA basketball Tournament. Good to be back in the club, enjoy it while it lasts.

After not being in the tournament two of the last three years the Cardinals (20-13) are a No. 7 seed in the East Regional. The Cardinals will play 10th seeded Minnesota (21-13) in Des Moines, Thursday at 12:15 p.m. It will be the first game in the tournament and will have the nation’s attention until at least 12:40.

The Gophers, of course, are coached by Richard Pitino, son of former Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Former Cardinal big man Matz Stockman plays for the Golden Gophers. “Rick Pitino will fly back from Greece to be at practice to help,” cracked ESPN analyst Seth Greenburg.

“It’s the elephant in the room,”said Chris Mack at his press conference. “I’ve coached a few guys that played for Rick. Can’t control what people are going to talk about, write about or report on. You can only beat a horse for so long.”

The Big Ten placed eight teams in the tournament. The Atlantic Coast Conference has seven but three of them are No. 1 seeds — Duke, Virginia and North Carolina — along with Gonzaga. I didn’t believe there was anyway the ACC would have three No. 1 seeds. Not that they didn’t deserve it, I just didn’t think the committee would have the guts.

I’m going with Duke to win all the marbles. Despite a short bench, the Blue Demons have the best player Zion Williamson, the best coach in Mike Krzyewski and a supporting cast of former Macdonald’s All-Americans.

Don’t doubt that Louisville could make it interesting, however, having dominated three of the top four seeds for more than a few minutes this season. Defeating North Carolina in one game, and managing nice leads before folding against Duke and Virginia. 

Malik Williams quietly efficient, Louisville downs Notre Dame

Christen Cunningham wrapping up his one and only season but always a Cardinal with 14 points on Senior Day (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).
Malik Williams bringing his game on defense against Notre Dame’s John Mooney. Turning in his best game of the year with his third double-double (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Malik Williams has had more than his share of criticism  of a perceived lack of quality at the center position. An issue taking a toll on the fortunes of  University of Louisville basketball.

There was little for anyone to find fault with Williams’ performance in UofL’s 75-61 win over Notre Dame on Sunday. None of those questionable shots, none of those awkward turnovers, no reason to throw up one hands in frustration.

Pretty much going unnoticed while turning in what may have been the best game of the 6-foot-11 sophomore’s career. Playing within the system, turning in his third double-double of the season, contributing 16 points and 13 rebounds.  

V. J. King with an encouraging performance, with 10 rebounds, 6 points and 2 assists (Cindy Rice Stephens photo).

Connecting on six out of seven field goal attempts, none of them flirting with NBA-type distances behind the 3-point arc. Making all of his free throws, four of four from the foul line, thank you.

Letting the game come to him while enabling Jordan Nwora and Christen Cunningham to do their things. Nwora with his own double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Cunningham with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Also showing welcome signs of progress was V. J. King. The 6-foot-6 junior bringing it on defense and contributing a career-best 10 rebounds to go with six points and two assists. No turnovers either in a performance that had to be personally encouraging for him. Not to be overlooked was Darius Perry with nary a turnover to go with seven points and two rebounds.

Not one of those epic UofL-Notre Dame games, often resulting in multiple overtimes. Not a great Irish team to be honest. But a good game for the Cardinals, something to build on for a change.

Nice to be back in the win column, support players being supportive, making noticeable differences, playing their roles.

Senior Day images from Cindy Rice Shelton.

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