Last week five Benton Panthers took part in the Heartland Senior Classic, an annual baseball tournament held in Norman, Okla.
As members of Team Arkansas, recently graduated seniors Stuart Levy and Ashton Roberts and future seniors Brooks Balisterri, Coulton Lee and Cason Holloway competed against some of the top college prospects in the country.
Benton head coach Mark Balisterri, who didn't coach Team Arkansas but attended the tournament to watch his son play, said this was the second year tournament officials invited Team Arkansas, which is made up of players from across the state.
Other teams competing were from team Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia and Canada.
"It's not as big in Arkansas as it is in other states, but it's an absolute elite tournament for them to go to," Balisterri said. "They got a lot better players this year because of the simple fact we knew more about it."
While last year's Team Arkansas lost every game, this year's squad went 3-4 and tied for fourth place with Team Arizona, which had several players signed to play for Arizona State University, he said. Team Arkansas beat Team Georgia, which finished second behind Team Texas, as well as Team Maryland and Team Canada before losing 11-9 to Team Ohio in its consolation fifth-place game.
During the tournament, Levy, a catcher, batted 4 of 17 and "did a great job all week working with the pitchers," Balisterri said, adding that Roberts went 6-20 and had a "good week defensively."
Balisterri batted 11 of 26 Brooks with four doubles, eight RBIs and 10 runs, making him the second leading hitter on the team.
Holloway made three appearance on the mound. "He did super, but unfortunately he had to go in against some of the best teams," Balisterri said.
"Coulton had a tremendous week," he said. "He completed a game against Canada and got the win."
Lee, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher, came into the game against Georgia — then 5-1 in tournament play — and pitched the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, striking out eight batters.
"That's huge for a 16 year old," he said. "Those were some of the best players in the whole country."
Balisterri said, "Our boys from Benton had a great experience. Those kids they faced, I think the slowest putter they faced threw 85 to 86 mph. The experience is something to be proud."
He said it was nice to be able to watch his son and teammates play without having to wear the coach's hat.
"I was just a dad, and it was kind of fun," Balisterri said. "I usually don't get to see my son play without having to be thinking about other things. I got to sit back and enjoy it, and I got to see the game from a different perspective."
The tournament, which is normally held on the University of Oklahoma campus, was held at several high schools because the Sooner's field is being renovated, he said.
Team Arkansas is selected by its coaches and not voted on, but other states are sponsored by their respective coaches associations, which Balisterri said he would like to see happen in Arkansas.
"We're going to try to get that here, but we're just in the beginning stages," he said, adding that he hopes more kids from Saline County end up going to the tournament in upcoming years.
"It'll mean as much as it does for kids in Texas and Arizona," he said.