BENTON – Since Benton baseball Coach Mark Balisterri won his 300th game back in the 6A State Championship season of 2009, it hasn’t taken very long to hit that next milestone – 400 wins. In Balisterri’s 20th season coaching the Benton Panthers, he picked up No. 400 on March 29, 2014, in a 6-3 win over the Lakeside Rams.
Balisterri has won 10 games since No. 400 and currently stands at 410-160 in his 20-year career for an excellent .719 winning percentage. The 2014 Panthers are 20-3 including the 7-6 come-from-behind win over the Cabot Panthers, the game Balisterri was honored with a plaque and a visit from former players.
“It’s just a number,” Balisterri said. “Really, seeing all those guys back here, that meant everything to me. All these wins, all the accomplishments we’ve had as a baseball program, if it wasn’t for these guys, players, the parents, the support we get from the community, it wouldn’t be possible. I’ve been blessed to be at Benton High School. I’ve been blessed to be able to stay here for 24 and a half years (also as an assistant). To see these guys come back and still have that passion about the game, means more to me than anything else.”
That passion Balisterri talked about has led to six conference championships, five 6A State Tournament semifinal finishes, one 6A State Championship runner-up (2003) and the 2003 and 2009 Arkansas High School Baseball Coaches Association Baseball Coach of the Year, including the regional honor in 2009. Arkansas’ region includes Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado.
“I still love the game. I almost felt like it was kind of like a retirement deal,” Balisterri joked about seeing all his former players in the stands. “It means a lot to me just to know I’ve been around players like this. From Cliff Lee to Rusty Davis, we’ve had players play in the big leagues, players play all over the United States in college, and then we’ve had some great high school baseball players. There were 15 to 20 guys 30 years old or more, and to see their accomplishments, to see them grown up and see their kids out here, it means the world to me.”
Balisterri was also named the 2013 7A/6A South Coach of the Year, was an all star assistant coach in 1997 and 2005, and was the all star head coach in 2009.
“The 400 wins speaks very well not only for Coach Balisterri,” Benton Athletic Director Steve Quinn began, “but the assistant coaches and the quality of players that have come through the program. Coach Balisterri has run a very consistent and competitive program. It’s a great milestone for him and a great milestone for our athletic program and school district. It speaks well to a lot of hard efforts with a lot of good people.”