J.J. Hancock has a piece of advice for how to pitch to Isaac Benard — don’t.
“Don’t pitch to him,” Hancock said with a laugh Wednesday, a few hours after signing his national letter of intent to play baseball at Washington State University.
Hancock, a catcher for the Kennewick Lions, likely will have a chance to impart that same advice to young pitchers for years to come as both he and Benard appear headed to Pac-12 schools. Benard, a senior outfielder for the Hanford Falcons, plans to sign with the rival Washington Huskies on Monday.
“I like everything there,” said Benard, who won the Mid-Columbia Conference triple crown as a junior hitting .541 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs. “The program’s pretty good, I like the coaches and the team. I’m very excited.”
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Hancock and Benard are just two of the area athletes who have made or will make their college choices official by signing on the dotted line. Wednesday was the first day of the early signing period that runs into next week.
Also signing Wednesday were a pair of basketball players: Chiawana’s Delaney Hodgins with Eastern Washington and Hanford’s Colette “Coco” Gall with Northwest Nazarene, a Division II school in Nampa, Idaho.
Hodgins, a guard, and Gall, a post, were both on the Herald’s all-area first team last year as juniors.
Both Benard and Hancock have a family history in sports. Benard is the son of former major leaguer Marvin Benard, while Hancock grew up going to Cougar football games with his grandpa, Hec Hancock, the former sports editor of the Tri-City Herald.
Hancock said when he first learned that WSU was interested, it was a thrill ... and a shock.
“I thought, first off, ‘WSU is talking to me!? That’s amazing’ ” he said. “I thought maybe I should start playing that good. It made me be like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s play baseball, let’s get in the classroom. Let’s go to WSU.’ ”
Both players said they benefited from playing in the Area Code Games in California back in August, a prestigious tournament that puts the best ballplayers in the nation in front of college and pro scouts.
“It was fun, but it’s a whole different thing,” Benard said. “The pitchers threw harder, had more control. But I enjoyed it.”
Benard added there is a chance he won’t end up wearing a Huskies uniform next fall, depending on what happens with the major league draft in June.
“I’d love to be drafted this year,” he said, noting that he has been filling out questionnaires for clubs since last spring. “So I’m working hard for that.”