Ever since the UAAP made softball a regulation sport, the Adamson Lady Falcons always had elite pitchers anchoring their defense.
From the Muyco sisters, Cloiene and Julie, to UAAP legend Rhiza Bernardino to two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player and UAAP Season 78 Finals MVP Annalie Benjamen, the ace pitchers of Adamson University have not only brought glory to their school but also to the country in international competitions.
However, before all the gold medals, individual awards, MVP tiaras, and championships, Benjamen had to earn her stripes before turning into the UAAP legend that she is today. Like everyone else, she had to work hard to earn the respect of her coaches and peers.
Dimpo was first noticed by her head coach Ana Santiago during the 2010 Palarong Pambansa games. “Recruit ako ni Coach Ana. Nakita na niya ako nung Palarong Pambansa at dinala na niya ko dito sa Manila para mag-fourth year high school,” the Bacolod City-native recalled. It was a tough time for the then-17 year old teenager as she was asked to move from Domingo Lacson High School to a school some 662 kilometers away, Araullo High School in Manila.
Even in being away from her family at a very young age, Benjamen was dead set on her one goal: to attend college at Adamson University. “Desidido talaga ako na dito ako mag-aral sa Adamson,” she shared. “Adamson talaga ang dream school ko kumabaga.”
What made the transition easier for Benjamen was the guidance given to her by Santiago. “Si Ate Ana, hindi lang namin siya head coach, parang ate talaga namin siya,” she said. “Pag malungkot kami nandiyan siya. Kasama namin siya dorm at tinutulungan din kami ni Ate Ana sa pag-aaral namin.”
In her freshman and sophomore years with the Lady Falcons, Benjamen though saw limited playing time. With UAAP Season 74 MVP and Best Pitcher Rizza Bernardino above her on the team’s depth chart. Dimpo though used this opportunity to pick the brains and learn from Bernardino and the entire coach staff. “Yung time nila Rizza (Bernardino), nung time na hindi ako nakakapukol, hindi naman bumaba yung morale ko,” she reflected. “Usually, kumukuha ako ng motivation sa kanila. Inisip ko kung san ako nagkukulang kaya hindi ako nakakapukol.”
“Dun ako nagsimula mag-training ng maayos para sa team. Ang maganda kasi dito, lahat kami nagsasakripisyo para sa team.”
Once Bernardino graduated from the UAAP after Season 75, it was Benjamen’s time to take over the mound for the Lady Falcons. The two years of learnings and hard work paid off incredibly as she won the MVP tiara and best pitcher of the tournament for two straight years prior to Season 78. Moreover, she had helped maintained the fabled Adamson streak.
Season 78 though was a whole different story. After years of carrying the Lady Falcons on her young shoulders and the grinding schedule of the softball circuit that included a 2015 Southeast Asian Games gold medal run for the RP Blu Girls, Benjamen suddenly looked fatigued. Throughout the season, the Queen Falcon lost control of her pitches in some of the games and had to rely on her powerful fastballs to get her through the game. Moreover, she had to be iced up after the games just to push through the three games a week schedule of the games.
“May time din na na-pressure ako. May time din na naisip ko na last playing year ko na ito at last time ko na tatayo sa mound,” Benjamen said about what made her push through. “Iniisip ko lang lahat gagawin ko para sa team. Lahat ng kaya ko bubuhos ko sa team na ito dahil lahat kami nagtratraining. Parang naglalaro ako para sa school ko at sa parents ko.”
In their last game of the elimination round, The Streak came to a crashing end at 73 games. Benjamen, for the first time in two years, looked lost in the mound as the UST Tiger Softbelles bombarded hit after hit on her in the early innings that led to a 6-2 win that stunned the entire Philippine sporting community.
The team took the loss hard according to Benjamen but had to quickly get up for the playoffs. During the Finals, the Lady Falcons and the Tiger Softbelles fought tooth and nail with the series reaching the limit: a winner-take-all Game Three.
Benjamen felt the immense pressure of wanting to end her collegiate career with one last championship. “Sabi ko nga kay Dimpo, eto na ang huling araw mo na pipitch ka para sa Adamson,” Santiago said about Benjamen. “Actually sabi ko nga sa kanya, ‘papalitan na kita.’ Sabi niya sa akin, ‘ate Ana huwag mo kong palitan, tatapusin ko ito.’ From then, naramdaman ko na na siya ang tatapos sa series na ito.”
Moreover, what made this game more special was the presence of her father on the stands. “Yung tatay ko talaga gustong gusto makita yung laro ko. Dun kasi ako nagmana sa kanya,” Benjamen said. “Sobrang special na nandito siya nung Game One hanggang ngayon. Yung loyalty talaga kasi ng parents ko sa Adamson talaga.”
Dimpo was spectacular in her last UAAP game ever. She was able to connect on a 2-RBI home run to left field during the bottom of the third inning that ultimately gave Adamson the lead. In addition, the ace pitcher gave up nine hits but limited them to 3 runs in a no-relief seven-inning stint that paved the way for Adamson’s sixth straight championship. “Yung gift ko sa school, yung championships talaga. First time namin sa history namin na six straight championships,” a humbled Benjamen said about how grateful she is to the institution that honed her for the last five years.
Lost for words after going a rare five for five (five championships in five years), Dimpo looked up to the skies and thanked God for giving her the strength in finishing her journey with Adamson.
“Thankful lang talaga ako kay God na kahit sobrang sumunod na yung braso ko, namaga or what, sinasabi pa rin Niya na kaya ko pa ito.”
Now that her reign on the mound is over, she is hoping that the next great Adamson pitcher continues the Adamson tradition of going all-out in every game. “Sana yung mga susunod sa akin na pitcher, malakas pa rin ang loob pagdating sa laro,” the UAAP Season 78 Finals MVP said.
And she believes that fellow Bacolod-native, 18 year old sophomore Riflayca Basa, will continue that legacy. “Ngayon, si Lyca (Basa) may kumpiyansa na kasi may time na rin pumukol (this season) at may international experience na siya. Sana magpatuloy niya yung championship (run) namin,” she enthusiastically closed.
With Benjamen ending her collegiate career, the likes of UST’s Ann Antolihao, La Salle’s Jamica Arribas, UP’s Cherokee Diolata, Ateneo’s Ira Nevalga, National U’s Mia Macapagal and Mary Ann Ramos are all looking to be the next queen of the mound. However, it will be hard for anyone to even match the legendary career left by Benjamen.